The folly of politics

Today, Jamaica is celebrating Peace Day 2014. The country needs more than a day of peace. With three murders a day, it’s very troubling to think that violence is stuck in overdrive. Parliamentarians are today debating one political measure to look at a particularly disturbing piece of Jamaica’s recent history–the 2010 Tivoli ‘Incidents’ (my choice of description; locally, it is called ‘Incursion’), when over 70 persons were killed as the government sought drug ‘baron’, Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke.

It’s 100 days before the 2014 World Cup tournament starts in Brazil, and though the Reggae Boyz did not make it, the politicians are showing how to play football with matters that are very important and need them to show how big they are. In the melee that passed today in Parliament over a proposed Commission of Inquiry into the 2010 episode, the Opposition walked out.

Many people see Jamaica’s politicians as a large part of the country’s problems in terms of being able to find workable solutions. They are tribal at their base level; so are their supporters. Any move that appears to show national unity, is quickly cut down, such as a mere four days ago, when the Governor General and the leaders of the two main parties urged Jamaicans to reflect and reconcile, under the banner of the Unite for Change campaign. Days later, and the python is eating the crocodile.

What Jamaican politicians show repeatedly is that reconciliation is not something of which the current batch seem capable of achieving.

Why do more people decide to refuse to cast their ballot? The answer is very simple: the politicians are not worthy of that action. The politicians may not be capable of seeing that they are unworthy. But, people have a way of getting their points across to errant politicians.

Lent is approaching and it’s a time for reflection. The crop of MPs who sit as representatives of the people ought to take a good hard look at themselves. Pontification does not impress people who are tired of pontification. It does not inspire people who have seen their lives and living standards diminish constantly. It does not lead people to trust or believe that the pontificators are capable of dealing with much, other than a good massaging of their own egos.

The Caribbean is notable, relative to other regions, for having a long tradition of peaceful changes of government. But, one thing that societies tend to do is reach breaking points, when old habits get overturned so that the change that people strive for can occur. Politicians think that the adage “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me” has not had a basis in people’s minds. But, most Jamaicans are not fools and they also are not very good at heaping shame on themselves.

Out of many, one people? Know your place!

The Caribbean is full of class differences. We can argue about their origins, but undoubtedly they exist. Their proximate bases may be income, schooling, speech, skin colour and tone, gender, geography, or more. How they play out in everyday life is very varied. I’m not going to try to capture much of that, but reflect on a few recent incidents that show, worryingly in my mind, that people in Jamaica are still tied up in class knots.

Yesterday, I was on the verge of meeting one of the pinnacles of a class system–a member of a country’s royal family. Let’s not argue here about whether the British Monarchy is merely symbolic; we have them, still.

Prince Edward greets a Jamaican reception committee
Prince Edward greets a Jamaican reception committee

We did not know what to expect, but I suspect most people were ready to be on their best behaviour.

Cut away, now, to the event to which the British prince was coming. I was out playing golf, and having a good time interacting with my playing partners and the two caddies they were sharing. It was a hot day, and we had all been doing the smart thing of taking in fluids, thanks to one of the sponsors, Wisynco, who had provided ample supplies of Wata (plain and flavoured). Being on a golf course for four hours or so, drains energy, and most players will bring food with them. I have protein bar, trail mix, and often take a carb filler, like bulla. This time, we were treated to the offer of a beef patty about midway through the play. One player asked if there were patties for the caddies. “No! No food for the caddies!” we were told in a very hostile manner.

Now, perhaps I have become too sensitive because of my years living in Europe and the USA, but there are ways of denying something to one group of people that is being offered to another group, especially when both groups are present. The caddies seemed to understand how things operated and got back to handling clubs, wiping balls, finding balls, helping read greens and generally keeping the players on an even keel. The players in my group had a discussion about this incident. We were agreed that it was both distasteful and unnecessary. Sorry, if there are 80 players and they each get a patty, then the caddies numbering no more than half that figure could be offered that basic and relatively cheap food (about US$1.10 each; call that US$90). If someone felt that the caddies needed to be ‘kept in their place’, they could even have each been offered half a patty (call that between US$20-45).

Golf has had a long history of making it very clear that caddies and players are not equals.tiger caddy In the US, that had the overlay of racism, with black caddies having a different and worse form of discrimination to deal with. One of the sweet ironies of all that is, two of the greatest ever golf players, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan, were products of caddy shacks. One of the other sweet ironies is that the best player in the modern area is a black player–one of very few golf professionals who are not white.

Caddies in Jamaica have their work on the course as their main source of income. Don’t work, don’t get paid. Do something extra, you may make a little extra. Treat your players right and the world will be a better place. Many players have regular caddies, whom they trust and work with closely. Despite that close relationship, both sides know that most club houses are off-limits for caddies; settlement of fees has to take place before the player ‘goes into the club house’. It gets interesting when you have a caddy playing in a tournament, but of course the new and old roles are not confused.

Some people love to have the opportunity to make sure that they put people in the category that they need them to hold. “Know your place!”

While the prince was presented to the players and organizers of the event, from what I had heard, he was never presented to the caddies.

There is a deeper set of issues at play, so to speak, as far as Jamaica is concerned.

A sporting chance

I spent almost 12 hours today in and around the National Stadium, leaving the area at about 7.30pm. My daughter was in a four-day swim meet–Wata Walter Rodgers Age Group Championships–which began on Thursday; it included two teams from the Cayman Islands and about nine Jamaican clubs. This was the second consecutive weekend spent mostly in the company of young people spending much of their time participating in competitive sports.

While the swimming was going on, the National Stadium complex was hosting an inter-school track and field event. The outdoor netball courts at the National Arena were also jam-packed with girls playing in this year’s staging of Netball Jamaica’s major (20 teams) and minor (32 teams) league competition. (Scholarships and bursaries were to be awarded to winning players and coaches.) What struck me about all of this was the clear fact that these were children, dedicated to self-improvement (albeit with some parental force in the case of several). They had all committed enormous amounts of time training and practising their sports, and most were going to continue doing so for many years. Obviously, only some of them would be successful, measured by who won–that’s a given. However, they would all have a chance to be successful by winning events, or exceeding their personal bests, or just doing well in whatever terms they chose.

All three venues were packed with parents there to ferry as well as support their children, even though the athletics and netball was mainly high schoolers. So, we had another group of committed people–let’s call them ‘guardians’ or ‘care givers’, who were spending large amounts of time watching and supporting these children.

Whatever the socio-economic base of the children, these were not in any major sense children who had been cast aside or abandoned by adults to just ‘run loose’.

So, I have this group to look at, in stark contrast to a group whom I do not know–so-called ‘delinquent’ children. All the implications of what happens to ‘idle hands’ tend to go towards negative outcomes. Sport is not the answer to social ills, but participation is often one factor in separating children who will steer themselves towards good outcomes rather than bad ones. Any child could find him- or herself tending towards misbehaviour and then its extreme form as crime. But, what happens when you are very occupied? At the very least, you have less time to go astray.

Athletes are not naturally good at academic subjects. As children progress with sport, they often find their time for study is compromised by their need to train and practice. Good organization is essential early on to keep the school workload in check. Some people say that swimmers learn this earlier than other athletes, because swimming tends to be year-round, and often means starting before school and practising after school. Let’s leave that division to one side, for the moment.

Jamaica has a great sporting tradition, so you’d think that we would see few youth problems as that tradition takes hold and sporting opportunities are taken up. But, that’s not been the case. So, I will leave myself the open question: Why has sport not been the safety valve for calming youths in Jamaica? I’m tired, so will leave the topic at this point.