A funny thing happened on the way to the Embassy.

In any country, many things occur that are not seen by many yet may affect many. Today, I got a glimpse of some of these in Jamaica, which I will mention in no particular order.

Good morning, Jamaica. Here comes breakfast. My day started really early: I’d agreed to play golf at about 6am, but needed to get my partner from his house first, so was at his door at 5.40. “Man, this is early!” We headed out westward, and were on the course within a half hour. Traffic was light, but the usual bustle of early morning Kingston was evident: men riding on bicycles carrying machetes and lawn strimmers; school children heading to bus stops; vendors setting up stalls; workers walking up hills towards ‘uptown’ homes, where they would do a day’s work. No other players were on the course when we started; Monday is caddies day, when they can play for free. The course was being maintained, as usual, with men and women clearing dew from greens, replacing flagsticks (they change the style if tournaments are played over the weekends), and raking bunkers. No cutting was going on, as this is not usually done on Mondays. We were quickly reminded why humans are weak: mosquitos began to chomp on our arms. We grabbed our various repellents and started applying them vigorously. The bloodsuckers were fast at work and a few blood-gorged bodies were being slapped on arms and calves. We heard the hum of fogging machines and saw their smoke as we started to play. As the sun came–later today, because of the cloud cover–the mosquitos showed they were in for a real feast and did not back off till around 10am. After several holes, my friend and I stood puzzled and looked up at a tree that was humming. It’s purple flowers hung like mini-orchid petals; we did not know its name. “What’s that sound?” asked my friend. “I think it’s bees getting pollen,” I replied. So, it was. We noticed it for the next hour as we walked through a stretch that had more of these trees. Bees-are bizarre. We should be thankfully that, at least somewhere in Jamaica we have bees ‘working, working, working’. We continued playing and enjoying our many contacts with nature. The course is filled with fruit trees–mainly mangoes, but some other specialities, such as cashews. It’s more than worth the early wake-up.

image
Cashews, not yet ripe

Chinese workers are popping out of the bushes. I write that not to frighten the average Jamaican, who may be getting the feeling that the country is being run by Chinese enterprises, but to remark on a simple fact. Some major engineering projects are going on, including to run a new water pipeline in St. Catherine, and to construct a new highway. The Chinese Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) is up to its elbows in getting this work done, along with a host of other projects. They even lent a hand two weeks ago to help control the fire at Riverton landfill/dump.

CHEC engineers are an integral part of redeveloping Jamaica
CHEC engineers are an integral part of redeveloping Jamaica

Several days a week I encounter some of their workers, carrying hoes, and pickaxes, measuring equipment and water bottles, wandering around the Caymanas Park Golf Course, which abuts both projects. They wander across the course, and then disappear into bushes.

image
Chinese workers walking off to their bushes

Sometimes, from the elevated tees, I can see what is going on in the bushes. Some areas have been cleared and look quite naked. In some places, people have taken the clearing of forest to start making charcoal–for sale, I presume. Then, some of the Chinese workers reappear; they wander in the way of flying golf balls and after a warning I tonked three of them last week. They were excited by what they saw–myself and two ladies playing golf–came closer to take pictures of us playing. China is a fast growing market for golf, so these men may well be a new wave in Jamaica if they could get some clubs in their hands and take a few lessons.

Entrepreneurs are everywhere. My wife and I needed to renew our US visas, and visited the US Embassy in Kingston to do that. The Embassy does not allow visitors to carry cell phones within the building. I forgot to leave mine in the car, so went out to find if I could leave it with one of the security personnel. I took it that the shaking of the head meant no. “Cooeee! Here, mister!” I then heard, as a woman with bleached skin waved at me from the central median on Old Hope Road. She waved at me a clear plastic bag that she ripped from a strip. I walked over to her. “Me cyan tek yu fone. Gimme a four bills.” (Translation: it costs J$400 for her to look after the phone.) I gave her the phone, she gave me a one inch square laminated plastic card with ‘Nadine’ printed on it and her telephone number.

Jamaicans wait in line at the US Embassy in Kingston, and a 'Nadine' is on hand to hold valuables
Jamaicans wait in line at the US Embassy in Kingston, and a ‘Nadine’ (with hat and umbrella) is on hand to hold valuables

My wife had gone ahead through security, and I followed soon after. “Belt? Take off your watch. Any cell phone?” Syllables were in short supply, as the guard offered a plastic tray for my belongings. I’d already had the no-belt treatment last week, so had not bothered with one this time. “No cell phone?” I said no. After, we’d had our application taken, we headed back out to the street. Nadine’s associates, or other freelancers, were handing back phones to others leaving the Embassy; Nadine was a way off, talking to some people. She came to meet me on the median, and was unwrapping my phone. “$300?” I said. She scowled at me. I smiled and she took the J$500 bill from me. “Lemme keep di change, nuh?” she asked. I told her I had many mouths to feed; so did she; she gave me my change. We talked about kids and their expenses, and I went back to stand to wait for my wife’s driver to come back. Eureka! I had my phone, so I called him to rush him back. It was a mistake to keep my phone, but that was not too costly. “That’s a quick way to make $400,” my wife said. I just said it was a good service and power to Nadine and her like. Some people hustle with hand carts, some hustle to hold your phone and hand you plastic cards. This is yet one more clear market solutions that Jamaicans seem to find, simply and effectively.

The good, the bad, and the ugly (February 30): Champs 2014 Edition

I spent a day at the races on Saturday, watching the ISSA Boys & Girls Athletics Championships at the National Stadium; that capped a week when I watched the races on television every day. I am very grateful to a cousin, who was acting as a team doctor, for procuring three season tickets, so that my wife and daughter could also go to see Champs for the first time. My daughter bailed out and spent the afternoon with classmate and eating crabs, I understand. Swim with your own kind :-).

To me, a sports nut, nothing beats watching sports live, and nothing beats being at a sports event. It’s vibrant and all of life can be on display in the raw. In Jamaica, sporting events means ‘vending time’. Roads outside the stadium and en route are lined with people selling food and drink, hats, whistles, vuvuzelas (love or hate them), tickets, and parking spaces. Many people get a great payday on such occasions. The police are often present, along with private security guards,

image
Police on duty, and controlling crowds without much display of force. Barriers signal clearly to drivers ‘no entry’

steering people to the event and away from places they think they can go. Usually, they do this without much incident, though sometimes without the best communication, but things stay pretty good-tempered.

Tickets were hard to come by, and from reports I heard or read, this was not an event where people tried to enter en masse without tickets, by scaling walls.

image
Vendors see the money well on big event days. Jamaicans love their simple road food, sugar cane and fruit, here.

I mentioned that because an IAAF representative who is in Jamaica to report on Champs, mentioned seeing that on her first visit, though it was a positive sign of what the sport means to Jamaicans.

Parking can be tricky. My wife has diplomatic privileges so can park in the VIP section of the stadium, but it always involves a little ‘negotiation’ as the security look for stickers, which she doesn’t have, and generally need a little time to process that she had a general not specific privilege.

Once inside the stadium, the sight and sounds are something special. It did not take long to fill the stadium (about 35,000) and we were seated at about 3pm. Horns, drums, vuvuzelas, noise makers (sponsor logo-ed), voices were all working to make noise and lift the athletes. The stadium had its sections, with various schools represented in blocks that showed off their colours, in terms of shirts and blouses and caps and ties in school colours. We were seated near a group of Calabar fans (green and black), and to our right was the huge block of Kingston College (purple and white and ‘Fortis’) fans, with a band of drummers and trombones and more.

image
Kingston College fans collected with their band and entertained the crowd all afternoon.

We could see across the stadium the contingents for Jamaica College (dark blue and white) and Edwin Allen (light blue and white). We saw some groups with the huge flags that cover a section of the crowd and can be passed down the terracing. Truly, a sea of colour, with national scholastic pride on display.

image
Night falling, but crowds still in evidence. Everyone gets a good view but standing to ‘see better’ and cheer are obligatory.

Fans tend to be tolerant of little mishaps. The seats have a gap in their back supports, which means that feet tend to kick backs and lead to lots of “Sorry,”. People have their food and drink: things brought from home, like bully beef or ham sandwiches, bun and cheese, nuts. Jamaica isn’t Jamaica without box food: curry goat, rice and peas, salad; jerked chicken; patties.

image
Curry goat, rice and peas and slaw salad; $600 well spent. Washed down with some ginger beer.

Vendors trying to sell soft drinks and cotton candy. A little food and drink get spilt but doesn’t lead to a war. Noise makers hit heads–more “Oops!”

We have the banter. “Want to share some of my bully beef for a taste of your curried goat?” Some of it is jabs at other schools. Immaculate Conception is a famed girls school run by nuns, with an excellent academic reputation, but they do not usually feature strongly at Champs (though they are good in the swimming pool). They put up a few good showings, but have to be ribbed: “What is an Immaculate?” “Is Immaculate one of the new secondary schools?”

We have the events. Fridays and Saturdays are loved because they have many finals; but preliminary rounds also have lots of excitement and set the table for the finals, with teaser performances that are world-class. But, the finals have the biggest dramas. The records falling (20 this year). The disasters: many disqualifications of favourites in the sprints, such as Michael O’Hara, which led to cries of ‘foul’: “No, man! That’s not right. We came to see him/her win.” “Starter, you holding them too long in the ‘set’ position.” Some did not perform as needed to make the cut in the field events: get in a legal jump, at least. Some fell over hurdles. No one was hit by a discus this year. Relay batons get dropped, though I did not see any drops during the races, or exchanges happen outside ‘the box’. Muscles get torn or ankles get twisted, sometimes out of our sight and we learn of that when we hear that someone has withdrawn, too often, a favourite.

The field events are a little distant from the grandstand, but the crowd is focused on them, nevertheless, and went wild as records were broken in the senior boys high jump.

We get to see ‘celebrities’. The PM is usually there, and this PM is a minister for sport to her core. We see the leader of the opposition, the Education Minister; we had a visit from a track legend, Cuba’s Alberto Juantorena. We had prized and medals presented by Jamaican Olympians, such as Warren Weir and Yohan Blake. We had the corporate sponsors presenting, too.

Health and nutrition are better catered for nowadays, and the racers are met with a cup of Gatorade as they finish. Any fallen or injured athlete is soon swarmed by a team with a gurney on wheels and medical help within seconds, and ‘revived’ or transported away for revival or treatment.

The teams look really good.

image
Officials near the high jump pit and on the track, showing off their stylish outfits.

Again, sponsors are upfront, and those that cover officials and teams get their logos and colours seen all over. Others make sure they are known by their designs. But, the point is that all the participants look well decked-out, and not a rag-tag bunch. The event looks stylish.

Everyone loves the relays and the event always ends with the 4×400 meters, which gave its customary fireworks, and this time a new record in the senior boys event.

We have to be astonished at the depth of talent that Jamaica can put on display, from the Class 4 (10-2) through Class 1/seniors (16-19).

image
Racers and officials at the ready. Crowd loving every moment.

The lines are drawn early and people love to watch the progressions over the years, through the classes. They know and understand the statistics, and see signs of greatness as records held by current or past Olympians get broken.

We saw a new strain of talent this year, with a relay race for the principals of schools, by region: 4×50 meters, to protect their health, though the island’s medical staff was on full alert. It was a great race, with some trundling by men and women, but also some stylish high-stepping, and everyone celebrated like the true winners they are.

Champs 2014 final day ended just when Earth Hour was due to start, about 8.30pm. Fittingly, there was a firework display scheduled after the events were over, and that was preceded by a tumbling and gymnastics display. Many who watched Champs at home–and the live and full TV coverage was excellent–were not much into saving energy and dousing lights until Champs had finished.

We left after the last relay and were home in record time, as most stayed for the displays. I caught it when I got home.

A great day. Now, the wait until next year.

My daughter’s school doesn’t participate, but I will have to get on their case and see if they can muster up a few kids to show some athleticism next year. When I raced as a boy, it was never in front of such fervent fans or a crowd of such magnitude. England’s main venue, Crystal Palace National Sports Centre holds only 14,000, while London has a population of around 6 million. But, London has more sports venues than many countries. I broke records, too, but never in front of a television audience and with national press coverage. I never focused on Champs when sprinting back then, but maybe it was there in my genes and pumping my legs and arms to the tape.

Thinking out of the blocks. Is this what USAID wants?

Several days ago, I read a report about a call by the Mission Director for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Jamaica, Denise Herbol. She wanted more research into local traditional and new industries, to help spur Jamaica’s development. She was also reported as saying “Jamaica must develop new models … develop new partnerships either internally or at the international level to maximise impact.”

Not for the first time, ‘Champs’ (Boys and Girls High School Championships) shows what we have already as a Jamaican brand that may need to be developed to fuller international potential.

Yesterday, we saw the latest in the line of ‘products’ that are rolling off the ‘assembly line’ of Jamaica’s ‘sprint factory’. The product was not Jamaican-made, but is being ‘finished’ in Jamaica–we’re ‘adding value’. Zharnel Hughes, an Anguillan, who’s a student at Kingston College, won the Class 1 boys 100 meters in a new record time of 10.12 seconds.

Jamaica has one of the IAAF’s eight Regional High Performance Training Centres (HPTC), based at UTech. Hughes received a scholarship to the HPTC, and trains with Racers Track Club, the home of Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Warren Weir.

Previously, we were amazed by the sprinting of Delano Williams, who is from the Turks and Caicos Islands and studied at Munro College, St. Elizabeth, and won the 100 and 200 metres at the 2012 Jamaican National High School Track and Field Championships, becoming the first non-national to do so; he successfully defended his titles in 2013. Last year, he completed the IAAF transfer allegiance and is now eligible to compete for the Great Britain & Northern Ireland team in international competition; the Turks and Caicos Islands are not affiliated to the IOC.

Delano Williams, running for Munro College
Delano Williams, from Turks and Caicos, running for Munro College; now he runs for Great Britain and Northern Island.

From what I understand, Jamaica has not embarked on making the production of world-class sprinters an industry. Its help given to other Caribbean athletes is not new, but it’s notable, not just at school level. Admittedly, top-level athletes are likely to thrive in many situations, but Jamaican should exploit and promote its clear superiority in this field. The IAAF centres help. But, should it be only through that route?

The world has been fascinated by Jamaica’s sprint factory for years, and more so since the stunning successes of Usain Bolt, and a cohort of true world beaters. So, how can we monetize that comparative advantage that we have? How can we build a lasting legacy that helps Jamaica and world track and field? My simple mind says it cannot be hard to market the idea to countries wishing to challenge on the world’s track and field stages, rather than ‘importing’ and ‘buying’ athletes as do Qatar and Bahrain, with say Kenyan runners.

I’m not going to be the one to spell out all the steps. But, I can see or sense some of the problems. Apart from any sense of national superiority in their own systems, Americans may balk because living in Jamaica would be a challenge that many think they would not want to handle just for the chance to be a world beater. For them, the ‘executive’ program may need to be developed, eg, sprint summer camps. Over time, resistance may dwindle.

Runners from other developing countries may be the easiest natural targets, especially those on the cusp of producing world-class athletes already, eg, Nigeria. Like teams needing that extra something to get over the edge, maybe being finished in Jamaica will work wonders. National pride may get in the way, there, too, however. But, as all good athletes know, challenges are there to be overcome.

A smattering of international athletes come to Jamaica to train, but it needs to be a flood. Will it hurt us? I think not. We can improve them, but if they don’t have some basic ingredients that we do, not many of them will beat us. But, what if they do? We move up the value chain and keep coaching them.

I don’t know how much R&D is needed, but we’d better soon get on the wagon we are pulling. Who knows, the Chinese (to whom we’ve given some scholarships to attend our coaching college, G.C. Foster) may quickly learn to copy what we do and run with it, literally.

 

 

Go, Daddy, go!

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post that was mainly pictures of a road trip from Kingston to Ocho Rios. I mentioned, in passing, that stories were in that journey, as there are in all aspects of life, and that I may go to tell them. Well, my mind is ready to tell some of them.

You can travel to the north coast from Kingston by several routes. Many people prefer to take the ‘faster’ route, via Spanish Town, Linstead, Ewarton, Mount Rosser, Moneague, and Fern Gully. It’s a nice route, especially passing through the ferns, but I sometimes dislike passing Mount Rosser and the possible delays of getting stuck behind a heavy truck or several. So, I asked the man who was due to drive us in his minivan to take us through St. Mary, via Junction: that route also involves a big hill, but I like it for being picturesque and going through a part of the country where one can see a major industry in action. We pass near to the banana growing areas owned by Jamaica Producers, and can see and smell their ‘St. Mary’s’ brand processing plant for banana and plantain chips.

That route also takes us near to the Richmond-Highgate area of St. Mary, where my father was born and raised. I used that sentimental reason to persuade the driver to head north that way; we would come back on the other route. My father had his 85th birthday on Monday–about which I also wrote this week–and, by happy accident, taking a trip to catch up with some US visitors gave us a chance to take him out. He’s a stroke survivor and largely confined to a bed because he cannot walk, but he gets to sit up in a wheel chair and moves around in that. As we prepared for our trip, I wondered aloud if he would have another chance to pass through this area. It was not a morbid thought, just a conscious awareness of something real. So, off we went.

I’d asked that my daughter be excused school for the afternoon, so she was in the van with us, and we were six in total, including the driver. My father’s nurses are both women from Manchester, near Mandeville. The driver, whom we’d only met through another acquaintance, was also from Mandeville. Happy coincidence? He was a careful driver and did not race, thus allowing me to try to point out some interesting things to all the ladies. We’d taken a trip to Robin’s Bay a few months back, so the route was not totally new to my daughter, but we tried to embellish it with stories about where my dad grew up. We asked him along the way if he remembered certain places. The parish is normally very lush, and so it seemed, but the rivers looked near bone dry–stark contrast to the reports of flash flooding in the northern part of the parish some months ago.

image
My father, with his yams, in his 50s, during the late-’80s, Mandeville

My dad seemed to enjoy the recollections.

We made it to the new bridge toward Richmond-Highgate and pointed this out–we wanted to call my aunt to tell her we were passing nearby, but thought she’d complain too much that we were not stopping.

Taxi passengers taking a break
Taxi passengers taking a break

Instead, we will plan to visit her soon.

Bridges are part of Jamaica’s landscape and also part of its tragic development. Some are constantly being washed away in heavy rains. Some take years to be built or rebuilt and communities suffered for years because of that. They are also lively places to help economic and social activity, connecting areas and stopping some places and people being isolated in areas that would otherwise be near-impassable.

We enjoyed passing the papaya plantations after the turn off to Robin’s Bay: “I loooove papayas,” came a squeaky voice from the back. We passed Port Maria and were caught briefly in the hustle of the town centre as people waited for taxis and meandered around the streets. It gave me the chance to take a few pictures of normal life. We then hit the coast. The air suddenly changed as sea breeze hit us. We also gasped a little as the landscape changed abruptly, from lush tree-lined views to sea and islands and sand and the mountains to our back and sides.

We had made good time and as we passed through Oracabessa and Boscobel aerodrome, we joked about how easy it would have been to fly up in our non-existent corporate jet.

Coastal view in northern St. Mary
Coastal view in northern St. Mary

Then, we were in Ocho Rios. We went straight to the condominium development where our friends were staying and found them immediately–the children were in the pool, while the mothers were in Mothers getting patty and jerk chicken lunches. Great timing. We unpacked ourselves and my daughter was with her former classmates in minutes.

image
My father, now in his mid-80s, by the pool

My dad and his chair were parked in the cool lobby, and we all stretched ourselves.

We spent the afternoon just enjoying a change of scene.

Roadside 'shop' in St. Mary
Roadside ‘shop’ in St. Mary

My dad moved to the poolside and then was set up in a lounge chair–the real jet setter. We ate our lunches. I took a good nap, because I’d played a round of golf from dawn that morning and now I was feeling a little tired. We talked and joked and just hung out. We’d made good time, about two hours. We planned to stay about four hours, so I had in my mind a departure around 6pm. That would give the driver a good rest and we could make some headway before dark.

When it came time to leave, the girls were all hugs and kisses. So, too, was I with their parents; we’d known each other a few years as our children had started elementary school together. They had loved their few days in Jamaica, and couldn’t eat enough local food to be satisfied. They’d stopped at Faith’s Pen on their way to Ochie, and eaten everything available, and had plans to do so on their way back to Kingston on Thursday. Go, Jamaica!

We hit the road near 6:15 and were passing Fern Gully just as the light was going. We made good time, with a short stop at Bog Walk for fruit and jelly coconuts–another of my daughter’s loves.

Bog Walk fruit stall at night time
Bog Walk fruit stall at night time

The driver had put on ’80s music and we were all singing and jiving in the van like a bunch of teenagers. I wondered if he understood the significance of the ’80s (which had also been the theme for my daughter’s school spirit day). My father was shouting “Music, driver, music!” We were home just after 8pm. All were tired, and all were very contented. The driver had to do the trip again the next day to bring back the visitors for their flight back to the cold of Washington DC. We’d had a good day.

Lyrical genius: stardust in my eyes

I’m going to try my hand at being a lyrical genius. I read recently that this attribute may save me from society’s wrath later in life. I have lived and loved, and laughed and cried. I’ve seen the world before I died. I am a man of the streets, and I feel the beat of the slums–where I was born and raised, but managed to move from after many years of study and work. So, after years of hearing from my children that I should write down the ditties I sing to them, here goes. music-notes

I went to the supermarket looking for baking powder,

Instead, I found an instant mix for making clam chowder.

Chorus: Oh, the life I lead. Oh, the life I leeeadd. Oh, the life I lead.

I brought that to my wife and told her what I’d done.

She rolled her eyes, kissed her teeth, and said “Well, Hon’…”

Chorus: Oh, the life I lead. Oh, the life I leeeadd. Oh, the life I lead.

My child went to school with a bun up in her hair,

She had a big wide smile and her teeth were crystal clear.

Chorus: Oh, the life I lead. Oh, the life I leeeadd. Oh, the life I lead.

She told me her teacher had given her an excellent grade,

I wanted to hug that teacher but was totally afraid.

Chorus: Oh, the life I lead. Oh, the life I leeeadd. Oh, the life I lead.

My neighbours all work and some have second jobs

We know we’re the lucky ones, so hold back our sobs.

Chorus: Oh, the life I lead. Oh, the life I leeeadd. Oh, the life I lead.

We often go to church, we sing some hymns and psalms,

We try to be helpful and put money in many palms.

Chorus: Oh, the life I lead. Oh, the life I leeeadd. Oh, the life I lead.

We look for inspiration from those we love so dear.

We kiss and we hug and feel the happy cheer.

Chorus: Oh, the life I lead. Oh, the life I leeeadd. Oh, the life I lead.

We’re afraid of people who have guns, and fight and rob,

We know that sometimes that’s done cos’ a youth has no job.

Chorus: Oh, the life I lead. Oh, the life I leeeadd. Oh, the life I lead.

So, I call all fellow citizens to look around and see,

That the life they lead should have no enemy.

Chorus: Oh, the life I lead. Oh, the life I leeeadd. Oh, the life I lead.

With luck, hard work, a good sponsor, a chance to go on television and radio, and be interviewed by some press media, I may see my simple life transformed and that I become what my daughter calls ‘a celebrity’ (today’s ‘Celebrity Day’ at her school–how fitting).hd-musical-celebrity-wallpaper-156002-1-s-307x512 I wont turn my back on my friends. I do feel that I need a stage name, though. I like the Bohemian sense that comes from being hailed as ‘Twenty Pence’. From henceforth, that is how I want to be known. I also need to find a bandana for my shaved head, and maybe I need some earstuds. Oh, my wife would love that!

 

Other props? Great, I just found a bill cap for the Heart Foundation. Wicked! Next, some big jewellery. Where does my daughter keep her Mardi Gras beads. I need a cross: that religious symbol will mark me as good at heart, if not great and smart. (Rhyming thoughts!) I’m feeling it, now. Celebrity status, I’m coming!

I’m on a roll, so will lock myself outside in the garden and see what other aspects of life come to mind and let me have the chance to earn millions from writing about them. Hum-hum-hum. “The engine of the car was sounding very sick/I think I sense a problem with the new gear stick/…”

From town to country

The content of this post is views on the way from Kingston to Ocho Rios. I could add a few stories and may do that later. I took the afternoon to visit with friends who came from Washington DC to spend a few days in Jamaica.

image
Roadside stall, a Jamaican fixture
image
North coast view near Port Maria
image
Hillside living is standard, island wide
image
Jamaicans have evolved into mobile phone accessories
image
Ocho Rios and its low key tourist style

What really matters?

I’ve been involved in a few spirited discussions in recent weeks. One has been about getting more women representatives in politics, essentially, the case for and against quotas in Parliament. I’m against. Another, about complex language and whether it’s an essential part of dealing with complex ideas. I don’t believe it is. A few things passed my eyes and ears in the past few days that make me think about how these issues come up, but not necessarily with any debate.

Women and men both have amazing gifts and much to offer. We are generally encouraged to think that having more women in areas where men have dominated will bring clear and better results. A notable argument raised recently was that it would mean less corruption. But, I asked myself, why is that we have a public agency that struggles to do its job, and run by a woman for the past two years? Jamaica’s National Solid Waste Management Authority, has a female head of agency, Jennifer Edwards. As far as I can tell, she has uttered nary a word since the start of the recent fire at Riverton dump/landfill. Why? An acquaintance mentioned ‘jobs for the girls’. Guess what?

Jennifer Edwards, Executve Director, NSWMA
Jennifer Edwards, Executve Director, NSWMA

Ms. Edwards was President of the People’s National Party’s Women’s Movement. She ran on a PNP ticket in general elections. Now, we should not jump to conclusions, but as talk of quotas swirl, persons like me wonder about where merit is put to one side and favouritism comes into play. This gets bothersome with bodies that have been tainted by claims of cronyism in their activities. Corruption is as much perception as actual greasy palms. So, better to remove all perceptions of slipperyness. That aside, clearly, no one woman can be a miracle worker, but if we are interested in better results and good processes, someone has to show me what we are supposed to have gained and what we have gained by placing our bets on a gender.

By contrast, it was interesting that no sooner had news flowed yesterday that the ‘Cuban light bulb case’ had been declared ‘no case’ by Resident Magistrate Judith Pusey, than words flew about the ‘spat’ between her and DPP Paula Llewellyn, and two women who were locking horns (if I can mix my gender metaphors). Justice Pusey had put her foot down and tried to get Ms. Llewellyn kicked out of proceedings in the case. An appeal quashed that ruling. Ms. Pusey refused to recuse herself. The process of impartial judgement seemed to be slipping. But, these are professionals, right. Both women seem to be well-equipped for their posts and I’d have few reasons, prima facie, to suggest that anything other than merit played into their being where they were. But, they got into a professional tiff and…well, it’s good for selling papers.

In a sense, my point is simple. Numbers mean little if they are fiddled. I’m still nervous about quotas.

On the language of the bright and mentally bountiful, I should have been warned when I heard Public Defender, Earl Witter,

Earl Witter, Public Defender
Earl Witter, Public Defender

tell Dionne Jackson Miller that a process had not been “sufficiently purgative“. Metaphors are tough at the best of times. Ones that deal with the evacuation of bowels are always tricky. The interviewer was trying to get some clarification to points Mr. Witter had made in a press conference earlier in the day, about the pending Tivoli Inquiry. The interview between the two did not go well. He was reluctant to understand that he had a duty to explain why his ‘Tivoli report’ had taken so long to prepare. He mentioned how the media had created a “straw man” in terms of ‘deadlines’. He wanted to know what deadlines meant. Ms Jackson-Miller patiently tried to get him to address that, but he wittered on about meaning.  She pointed out that many civil society groups, not just the media, had queried the delays. Mr. Witter went on. The tone got tense. By the time I stopped listening, the interview was nearly over. A lot of talk from the Public Defender and not much good listening. That’s odd from someone who is a renowned lawyer.

When people struggle to explain things simply, it’s always hard for those who struggle to understand. Lawyers may be good at weaving webs of words to obscure the truth and sometimes they get tangled in their own spinning.

Dates? Names? What’s the big deal?

My father is 85 years old today, March 24. He celebrates his birthday today…and on April 13. That’s odd, but not so very much in Jamaica. In my family, several of my older relatives also have two birthday. Why? Several reasons, if you listen to parents and grandparents. For many years, those persons who went to register children could not read or write, or were not really concerned about actual dates. Alternatively, they were registering several children, not necessarily their own, and sometimes got details confused. In some cases, dates of birth were not noted but date of registration (at post offices) were what came into play. My father’s problem was the second reason. For decades, I only knew his birthday as April 13, so was shocked when one March 24th, not so long ago, he said, “Wish me happy birthday!” I was flummoxed, at first, then he explained the very long story, which also involved some other ‘dark’ elements of family history.

Those basic problems may be less today, but I suspect some parts still exist. So, it’s quite possible that we have more generations of people with a real and a false birthday.

Winston Churchill visits Spanish Town in the 1940s
Winston Churchill visits Spanish Town in the 1940s

It matters more now because our biographical details are not just needed for national purposes, but also for international purposes, and some of those are very important, such as for passports. Wrong biographical details can be more than mere inconveniences. We can almost literally cease to exist, especially as electronic databases get linked and corresponding personal details do not match. I’ve been living some of that since I came back to Jamaica last summer. Some of us are in danger of being labelled ‘terrorist’ or ‘undesirable’ because some relative in the distant past did not think it mattered that we were named ‘Lovern’, when the name was really ‘Laverne’ or that the date of birth was several months later than when the child was actually born.

We cannot take the somewhat elevated stance of the Queen of England, who has an official (‘a day in June’) and actual (April 21) birthdays.

Queen Elizabeth II, celebrating her official birthday
Queen Elizabeth II, celebrating her official birthday

These things are part of the morass that we have found ourselves in administratively, in part because we were just poor, uneducated people; in part, because we were in a colonial world where we lived with systems and barely understood what they meant then and certainly had no idea of what they would mean now.

 

How wi fi chat?

I am not going to make any deep analysis, just a few assertions. Most Jamaicans are most comfortable speaking in Patois. It is well understood by most people living in Jamaica, or of Jamaican heritage living abroad. Patois should not be regarded as a second-class citizen to standard English.

Professor Carolyn Cooper is one of the great proponents of Jamaican Patois. I am not going to cite any of her works, because I have not read them, apart from her Gleaner articles. I am a great lover of the works of Louise Bennett, and I have read her works.

If we believe that formal situations (some, at least) demand that we speak English in a way that we think will make it easier for other English-speakers to understand, then we had better become proficient with standard English, in both written and spoken forms.

However, we should not deny the fact that most Jamaicans do not learn standard English at home and cannot have it reinforced by their surroundings. In that sense, it can seem ‘foreign’.

Trying to teach children standard English at school is right, but we need to find a way of not penalizing those who do not succeed in mastering it. By all means, reward those who do master it.

I left Jamaica as a young boy–six years old. I learned standard English at home and at school, and seemed to master it. Everyone around me in Jamaica spoke Patois and I mastered that too. I went to England and had to learn that my ‘funny speech’ was not too different from ‘Cockney’, and I managed to master the latter, too. I can speak well and write well in standard English. I can slide into one or other non-standard forms of English. I enjoy the linguistic gymnastics.

When I meet people in Jamaica, few of them address me in standard English, except in banks, some private firms (like Lime stores) and some government agencies. Everyone else, speaks to me in Patois. I am happy with that.

Some people who speak standard English, speak it very badly in terms of their own understanding of the language. Some cannot form full sentences in standard English; it’s clear, but incomplete. I never have trouble understanding what Jamaicans say to me in Patois.

I think Jamaica needs to take a serious look at other countries where Patois or Creole are spoken and written widely by the natives in those countries and see what lessons can be learned from elevating, not supressing such expression.

The good, the bad, and the ugly (March 23, 2014)–Football Edition

Good

Wayne Rooney? This is your life. He scored a sensational volleyed goal yesterday against West Ham United.

Of course, immediate comparisons will be made with David Beckham’s long distance lob against Crystal Palace.

My vote goes to Rooney, who never controlled the ball, but volleyed it, after a lovely little nudge on his opponent. Becks had the ball at his feet and was under no pressure, waltzing in midfield. “Incredible!” “Astonishing!” That’s what the commentators said. F****** brilliant! Oh, but not on the telly can that be said.

Bad

Arsenal will be seen as English Premier League Champions-pretenders this season for one reason. Against other top four teams they have been given a royal tonking by the other three when paying at their grounds. Yesterday, they suffered 6-0 to Chelsea, but had been roasted 6-3 by Manchester City and 5-1 by Liverpool. That big loss spoiled Arsene Wenger’s 1000 EPL game as their manager.

But, the match was also memorable for a refereeing howler. Arsenal midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain dived and handled the ball on the goal line, but a bizarre case of mistaken identity meant that his team-mate Kieran Gibbs was sent off instead. Referee Andre Marriner pointed to the spot for a penalty, but sent off Keiran Gibbs, rather than Oxlade-Chamberlain, who could be seen on television vainly telling the official: “Ref, it was me!” Do I really want ‘to go there’ and say, “We know they all look alike?” No, I’ll let Marriner stew on the skewer for a bit first.

Kieran Gibbs
Kieran Gibbs (“I’m not Oxlade-Chamberlain”)
Oxlade-Chamberlain
Oxlade-Chamberlain (“I’m not Gibbs”)

Ugly

Refereeing decisions. I may have to start a petition to see if FIFA will review refereeing decisions in a transparent fashion. But, the no-men of Zürich are not easily persuaded to do things that are sensible for ‘the beautiful game’. They argue that ugly is pretty, in the sense that “mistakes are part of the game”. Well, yes, if you allow them to be and do not use simple means to correct them.

A report from last year, highlighting refereeing incompetence, could easily have been written this past weekend. I’ll keep hammering this topic, hoping that like many a real person, FIFA will feel the sting of shame. But, I wont hold my breath. After all, we’ve got the murky World Cup bidding process to occupy them. What is it about organizations based in Switzerland that makes me feel a bit queasy when thinking that transparency is not high on the agenda?

"What, me? No way, ref!" Gibbs gets the mistaken identity card and an early bath
“What, me? No way, ref!” Gibbs gets the mistaken identity card and an early bath