Hospital eyes: UWI found wanting

I’ve had the mixed fortune of my father having to be admitted to the UWI hospital again this week. He’d had a falling accident while I was abroad, and his heart rate and blood pressure had risen sharply. He was admitted early Monday morning. I got back to Jamaica that afternoon, and went to see him in the evening. Many things about the way hospitals work bother me, and frankly I would never feel comfortable as a patient anywhere but in a private room with someone right outside my door. So, some of what I observe and feel troubling, I have seen elsewhere: I spent several weeks taking someone back and forth to a hospital in the US. But, let me list some of the bothering things and maybe we can figure out if they can be fixed, easily and permanently.

  • Security and poor communication skills: In Jamaica, we have private firms who perform this service at almost every establishment; that’s how our society has developed because violence has become endemic. But, security officers have become the ‘first greeters’ at most establishments; they do what receptionists used to do. The problem is that many do not seem to have any training in essential skills for interacting with people. They often act in ways that are brusque if not downright rude. I asked the guard at the entrance to the Accident and Emergency where I needed to go to find my father, whom I had just been told by his caregiver was in a room near the entrance. I do not know the building, and I should not be expected to know it. “Where is he?” I was asked. I couldn’t answer because I had no idea of the layout; I only knew he was in a room not far away. I said that. It got me nowhere. “How many people with him?” I was asked. I guess I could have asked the person who had spoken to me on the phone if she was alone, but I had not. “I don’t know,” I replied. The guard told me that more than two people could not be with the patient, so I would need to get someone to come out if there were more than two. I was about to figure out how to deal with that, when a nurse/caregiver to my father, called to me to join her in the waiting room. Within moments, my father’s main caregiver came out to join us. She told me where to find my father and I went to take a look at how he was doing.

The simple truth is that hospitals and other organisations have derogated a certain responsibility, because they have outsourced a task and not retained much control over it, but it goes to the core of how the enterprise or organization works. I don’t want to be derogatory, but many of the security staff are not the brightest pennies in the pocket. That adds a layer of bad communication that is both avoidable and unnecessary. Economics being what it is, however, you are unlikely to get brighter pennies taking on such tasks for the money that is paid. I do not know the actual wage levels, but judging by the way that such security staff are ‘hanging out their hands’, it’s no great payer.

  • Security and cyan badda-ism: The tendency to be oblivious to surroundings is not unique to modern Jamaican society. Many of us talk about how caring the world used to be. But, one of the ways that life seems to have changed is the degree to which people seem to have little or no interest in those around them. In a setting like a hospital, this is a recipe for total disaster. One sees all manner of people in a hospital. Some are dressed like medical people. Some wear badges. Some are dressed like ordinary citizens. Some are performing tasks that seem consistent with a hospital, carry packages, wheeling stretchers, walking with files, carry meals, selling wares, etc. But, who is who? A person walking around with a stethoscope is not necessarily a qualified doctor. At best, if not a doctor, it may be a student; at worst, it may just be one of many con artists. Add to that the fact that people just do not pay attention. I was at one end of a corridor heading to the wards yesterday afternoon. I could see our main caregiver on the phone, standing next to a lady sitting down. My acquaintance then disappeared, as I turned my eyes away to avoid colliding with someone. I asked the lady sitting down if she had seen where the woman went. “Which woman?” She had not even registered the woman next to her. I said “The one who just committed a murder.” The sitting woman looked shocked. I said that if she was asked to be a witness she would be no use. She was dressed in clothes that suggested she was a hospital orderly. A passing woman said while walking “She’s not the security guard!” I retorted that we were all security guards in this setting. I went to the ward where my father was not in bed, and found my caregiver. I told her of the incident. “You mean the woman sitting by the elevator?” she asked. At least, she’d not zoned out while on the phone.

You don’t have to be a reader of thrillers to think of the many bad scenarios that could arise in such circumstances. Add to this the fact that people enter wards unchecked, with no need to present credentials or any form of scrutiny. Often, there is no one in sight to check. I walk into a ward with say 20 people and spray the room with bullets. I hear screams. I walk away, dropping the gun in a room as I walk away in the ensuing mayhem. Too easy. Oh, I shook with fear.

  • Games people play: I got a call mid-afternoon from a cousin that my father was being discharged; he’s on the information sheet as a prime contact, because he’s been doing that for most of the past 20 odd years, while I lived abroad. I happened to be with a friend in the Mona area, having a late lunch with my daughter. We had a swim meet in the evening, and I saw no need to head over the hills then come back down to get to the stadium. I quickly downed my mackerel run down and headed to the hospital. My father had been moved from the Critical Care Unit, and I looked for a nurse to guide me on what I needed to do. Another nurse told me that there was a nurse at the CCU. I told her to go look. She did. No one. A doctor came by and started telling me about follow-up appointments that my father would need on Monday. I did not get to mention the absent nurses. I heard her tell me that x-ray results had been ‘inconclusive’. I told her that disturbed me. Why? Two doctors had told me contradictory things: one that my father had a hip fracture; the other that he had no hip fracture. I think that these are each conclusive statements. Put together, they are confusing. If based on ‘inconclusive’ tests, then why make a conclusive statement. I told the doctor that I was thinking of suing the hospital. She went very quiet. I explained my concerns. I’m a stickler for some things, and doctors telling me things that are bogus is one of those things I just don’t like. Call me ‘old-fashioned’. It did not seem like what these professionals should be doing. We moved on. We talked about getting my father home. “We need to take him by ambulance. My car is small and hard for older people to get into.” Considering that my father was only a few days ago hitched to monitors, also told me that his being transported in an ambulance and by trained orderlies would be better. Add to that, his caregiver had herself just had a gynecological ‘procedure’ mere hours ago. The two of them would be better served that way. The doctor made a call. No hospital ambulance was available, but a private one could be found. I did not get into cynical mode and think that this was part of a scam that goes on all the time to get business for such firms. I took it at face value. “It will be J$8000,” the doctor told me. I said that was fine, and I would pay with my debit card. “Their card machine is not working,” she told me. I replied that ‘my ATM’ was not working either. I also did not have checks. So, debit card, or invoice, they could get paid. My funds are good. But, I understand that ‘cash is king’ in Jamaica. (In that sense, the US is extraordinary by comparison, where dirty old money rarely sees the inside of a hospital, where billing and later payment are standard.) Anyway, I headed off to find an ATM to get some cash, so that the caregiver did not have to deal with the stress of how to pay the ambulance staff. Just as I got back, they arrived, and quickly got into their routine. I checked with the doctor if there was anything else I needed to do to facilitate the discharge. She said I was good. She had called a cousin of mine who is a big honcho at the hospital “because it helps to know someone in Jamaica” to see if things could be expedited for my father’s appointment. I didn’t get into that. I let them doctor it out. I headed back to get my daughter, confident that I’d done all I could. I would expect to get a bill from the hospital in coming days.

I could go on about this episode, but I think the points are clear.

I wont attack the hospital itself, feeling that much of what I see is the result of years of struggling to perform an essential service without many of the essential pieces to make that work. But, many structural things are not right.

I wont talk about ‘little things’, such as the patients’ bathrooms that have no towels.

Soap bar? Check. Paper towels? Unchecked

Derailed for want of what?

I wont talk about the fact that visitors have to help with feeding patients because staff are over-extended and often just leave food to be eaten, even when patients are incapable of doing that themselves. Feeding may happen, but you better be around to help. Woe betide you if you didn’t get that memo. I wont mention the constant hand shaking that goes on between medical personnel and visitors, most of whom have just walked in off the streets. Suffice to say that I read an article last week about how this practice is the source of much transmission of pathogens in hospitals. I washed my hands on arrival. Oh, I had to find some tissue paper to dry them. I refused to shake the doctor’s hand, but explained why.

Handshake or fist bump? Pass on your germs with care
Handshake or fist bump? Pass on your germs with care

The hospital is a lively place and you can see all that is not quite right. ‘Bucks’ cafeteria is like a lively village bar. Orderlies sit in groups arguing about issues of the day. Vendors walk around selling shampoo, conditioner, bodywash–essentials that are not supplied by the hospital. I’m surprised that people have not set up stalls to sell bedding items and towels.

I know too that the longer a patient is in hospital, the greater the risk of infection and an extended stay. I’m glad my father came out yesterday. I can deal with the vagaries of our home life for his care. I’m not sure I can deal with it at the hospital. You, we, (intended pun), need to get onto this and change it.


Where roads lead: a tour of somethings touristic

I’m no expert in tourism. I’ve travelled a lot. I live in a country dependent on tourists. I did not know that our minister of tourism was going to give an interview during prime time TV last, otherwise, I would have watched. But, let me go without reference to him.

I visited Ocho Rios on Wednesday. I’ve passed through the town a few times in recent months. My impression is that time is passing it by. I’m sure it has lovely beaches but the appeal of the place is lost on me. I went to do some golf practice at the Sandals course in Upton, just outside the town. It was mid-morning when I arrived with my playing partner. It had taken us just 90 minutes to get there from Kingston. We hoped the bypass would open soon to speed the trip. I noticed a few groups of white people on the course, which otherwise looked quiet. We got a caddy whom we know and like and set off.

As we played, I asked the caddy how things were. “Slow. Tourist season over.” The official season runs from October 15-April 15. He said they would be lucky to see more than 10-15 visitors a day, now. Just as we teed off, a couple of tourists came onto our fairway: they had hit balls way off line and were negotiating a tree and a pond. They got out and moved out of our way. The caddy went on to say that the staff know the deal so they did not grumble about the lack of paying visitors. I know that caddies get a fee from players but I forgot to ask how money flowed when no one played. We got on with our round, comparing the lack of mangoes to eat, the absence of sticks to pick cakes or coconuts, watching the grounds being repaired ahead of Sunday’s final rounds of LIME Cup. Bunkers were being reshaped.

We finished and talked briefly to the manager about a few things and promised to bring some mangoes from Kingston at the weekend. We then went to see friends of my playing partner, who had a house further up the hill and had rooms we hoped to use over the weekend. We were treated to some fresh jelly coconuts, with juice so sweet and jelly so tasty. I said we were in Paradise, as we admired the view over the valley.image

We then headed back towards Kingston.

We stopped for roast yam and salt fish at Faith’s Pen, not at the park but at a roadside spot. The yam looked scrumptious. We agreed the price. The vendor then went off into a performance denouncing the devil, as she cleaned chickens’ feet and walked back and forth past her pot on the blazing wood fire. “The devil won’t win. Not today…” and so on.

We eventually got our yam and sat to eat it, just as rain started to fall. My friend also had some cow skin soup. We took in our dervish-like vendor and her wailing. Then, we headed on toward Mount Rosser.

It’s a beautiful place but I dislike it. Why? Trucks always have problems with the hill and often break down there, causing much delay. Lo! We hit a line of traffic. We waited and did not see any vehicles pass for a while. Then a string of cars and a Knutsford Express bus came up. We edged forward. A boy walked past us and we asked him what was happening. “Truck bruk dung.” Clear enough. Some commercial vehicle drivers got impatient and started down the hill on the wrong side, urged on by another man walking up the hill: “Yu cyan pass, man, jus’ tek time an’ blow yu harn.” The line stayed still. Then we say a long line of vehicles come up the hill, but notably no trucks or buses. Not good. We started to move down the hill and came to the blockage.

A truck pulling a cement trailer had jack-knifed and was across the road. Cars could get through, just, as we drove close to the edge of the hill. We saw trucks stacked up down the hill; they would soon be stacked up the hill, too. It would not be a good day for some businesses. We rolled, with some more stalling as cars had to negotiate the stopped trucks. We’d lost nearly an hour. My fears had bee well founded.

Our tourism needs several kinds of boost. Improved roads from south to north is part of that. It’s happening, but slowly. We also need better offerings.

I had a zany idea while talking to a sports coach yesterday. Jamaica is the land of cool. Could we just go off the deep end? I asked him to think about martial arts experts on a cricket field. Instead of bat and ball, they played with their hands and feet. Flying kicks. Diving and whirling catches? It would be a spectacle, not the real sport. I’m sure the purists would quail up. As luck had it, I later bumped into a taekwando expert. I threw my idea at him. He noted that the arts had their codes and discipline, so exponents may not warm to such displays. But, he mentioned how he’s looking at ways his sport can help other athletes. I agreed, having taken up karate a couple of years ago, and understood how it built core strength and improved flexibility. I mentioned some top sportsmen who were martial arts experts, most notably, Zlatan Imbrahimovic, a Swedish footballer now playing for Paris Saint Germain. He’s famous for elaborate overhead kicks. The expert noted the name. I said that maybe the footballs ninja idea would work better.

None of these suggestions may have much traction now, but visitors are fed a dreary diet of limbo dancing on beach stages, mento bands, ‘story tellers’, other faux things. Jazz it up a little. Even look to make it participative. Think beyond the now.

Like the caddy, many people in Jamaica will happily trudge along, knowing how things are, and accepting that times haven’t changed things much. But, our future can’t be rosier with such an approach. We have to shed that skin. Then again, maybe we don’t. Faster and more dynamic change may not be what most Jamaicans really want. I’ve suspected that for a long time. It would explain a lot of things. But, let me hold the notion that a little change is desired. Maybe, I need to find some people ready to be venturesome, who have sport and tourism mixed already. This is Calabash weekend. My mind drifts to Jakes and the sports park in Treasure Beach….

Catching a falling knife: Look out, Jamaican dollar tumbling

I don’t want to give the impression that I do not care what happens to the Jamaican dollar exchange rate; nothing could be further from the truth. I just see things from a particular perspective: I am an economist and I used to trade foreign exchange. One of the first lessons I was given about foreign exchange markets as a trader was that traders are not good at picking tops or bottoms to trends. Also, markets tend to latch onto the prevailing direction more easily than go against it. Think also about metaphors concerning catching a falling knife. falling_knife I am not surprised that more comments appear to be coming about the current level and direction of the J$. Anyone living through a 20 percent decline in the value of their currency during the short period of two years or less should be worried. It’s like living in a period of rapid inflation: the loss in value of the money you hold is almost visible. In some sense, the exchange rate slide is just that, of course. Our prices have risen too fast relative to most of the countries with which we trade; or our costs have not been as well contained as theirs. Our competitiveness has declined. The exchange rate is a price, and it regulates the prices in our country in comparison to those overseas. If we fall out of line with our relative prices/cost, the exchange rate should move to keep the prices/costs the same for foreigners.

Several government politicians have noted recently that the exchange rate is an outcome that reflects fundamental conditions in the Jamaican economy. I would not disagree with that: at its base, that should be the case. But, fundamentals do not affect the exchange rate in any clear and simple way. More worrying, improving fundamentals need not show up in an improving exchange rate either quickly or fully. In that sense, markets are capricious. They also take account–sometimes, too much–of sentiment (call that confidence, or lack of it, in the policy makers). If markets do not believe that policies are credible, they tend to hammer an exchange rate. Despite the success in sticking to the current IMF programme, the government has not seen that translated into improved business and consumer confidence. Such confidence is rising in Jamaica, but still remains very low, according to the last set of data, for the first quarter of 2014Despite the increases for almost all areas, confidence levels are “nowhere near the highs” of previous periods and are coming from two quarters of extremely low levels, Don Anderson, managing director of Market Research Services was reported to have said.

But, people are often afraid when they see no end to things they dislike, and the exchange rate is no different. Well, it is different because people often put a lot of national pride in the level of their currency, and feel it personally when the currency seems to be weak. That’s no different for countries with large, strong economies, compared to those that are small or weak. Many of neighbouring countries are quick to see the Jamaican dollar rate as a clear indication of how far down the hole this country has fallen. Those with fixed exchange rates, such as The Bahamas and Barbados, often do not relish any notion of having a floating exchange rate, given the kind of slide that has happened with Jamaica’s currency. They also do not fully appreciate that they are living a lie–their economies have not stood still relative to the USA since the day the rates were fixed, so their currencies should have fallen too, more so, because they have not made policy changes to offset the differences that have occurred. They are paying for that in other ways–unemployment, for example. They also still need to deal with some of their core problems, such as the level of their budget deficits and a ballooning debt burden.

I don’t envy the Bank of Jamaica’s governor or our minister of finance. They are in a hard place sitting under a falling rock. The country does not have the means to ‘defend’ the exchange rate.

Slipping into darkness?
Slipping into darkness? (Courtesy of The Gleaner.)

Our net international reserves–the amount of foreign exchange available to finance imports–sit at about 14 weeks of imports (that’s close to an internationally accepted satisfactory level of about 3 months of imports), see a recent press report on that level, though for concern that they are slipping. I would rather see that stock used to help buy what the country needs, rather than trying to hold a price that may not be right. I suspect the government agrees. So, the ‘slide’ wont stop because the government throws foreign exchange at it.

Some press reports caught yesterday that the Inter-American Development Bank commented that the slide in the currency was affecting adversely business and consumers in the short-term. Well, sorry, that is part of the expected effect. Importers and consumers of imports are not supposed to feel good when the exchange rate falls; they are meant to consider changing their behaviour because the national demand for foreign goods is too high. Now, the current structure of Jamaican businesses and Jamaican consumer tastes may have a strong liking or need for imports, but that’s what has to shift. Of course, it cannot happen instantaneously. The businesses need to figure out if their inputs need the foreign content. The consumers have to consider if their tastes for foreign things cannot go down. I’m not into the drama scene of hand on brow. I read a tweet yesterday about no radishes and cilantro in the supermarket. Well, find another local salad vegetable and get growing with substitutes like mint leaves in the near-term, or if we really cannot live without those items, start growing them. But, then we get back to how well can we do that at prices that make us competitive. It’s not enough that our ground is fertile, but at what cost do we get the stuff out of the ground or off the trees?

I am not going to scream as the dollar declines. We have been very good at laughing and joking for decades about what needed to be fixed in Jamaica’s economy. Governments have lied about the state of affairs, and people have lapped up the lies like a cat with a bowl of milk, because it was much easier to do that. Change is a great source of fear. But, often when you don’t change voluntarily when you should have, then the forced change is often more drastic than it would have been and more sudden. We are going through that phase. It’s really painful, like tight shoes are, or even tight briefs, if you are a man. But, like with those sartorial problem, you can either wince and not get into something more comfortable, or make the adjustments to walk comfortably.

Government hasn’t quite got it right in making people see that they need to make those adjustments, I think.

Sitting on a rock will give you piles?

I am not the giving up type. Months ago, I felt that one thing missing from life in Jamaica–and it is almost perfect, if your eyes are closed, and all you do is feel the warm breezes and smell the fresh fruit. Jamaica lacked an ability to have a good laugh at itself. Then, one of the major newspapers, not renowned for taking itself or anything lightly, started to poke its finger into the national eye. It unveiled two columnists who seemed to not give two hoots about offending most of the nation’s sacred cows. They started to take jabs at the best singer the island had produced since Millie. They took on the haughty icons of religion, though, I noticed that they did not make any allusions to how this body can get away with constant cross-dressing in a country that breaks out in hives when it sees its top male athlete dressed as a woman in a television ad. They did not seem to have any barriers, save the number of hours available in a day, in between performing Caesarian sections or writing another yet-to-be-hit play on Broadway. Dr. Michael Abrahams and Keiran King have been a breath of cool air in the otherwise always heated atmosphere of discourse in Jamaica.

Every time, I feel like taking a sardonic or satirical swipe at something in Jamaica, however, we hit upon a tragedy that makes be halt and hesitate, not wanting to seem in bad taste of insensitive. But, I think I just have to step into the cow pat and not worry too much about the squishy feeling that I may have in my toes; it may be a dry one, anyway.

So, where to start? I had to good fortune to leave Jamaica over the weekend. The price of that decision is that I now have no voice. That’s a problem in a country where people love to use the phone to call, at al times, and for all reasons. “You reach airport, yet?” No, I’m still in traffic. “You clear immigration, yet?” No, I am in the line and not supposed to be using my phone. That reminds me that Jamaicans are very obsessed with their phones and the new fangled features, such as WhatsApp and other messaging programmes. When I was getting off the plane in Kingston on my return on Sunday, a lady was standing stock still in the middle of the corridor heading to immigration. I asked her if she had a problem. “No. I just have to read the messages now, coz I can’t do that when I get up to the desk.” I understand the anxiety that doctors or politicians may feel after not being able to get messages for 90 minutes, and maybe the lady was on medicine or politics, but I had a feeling that she was just checking what Sherleen had been saying about Cavada and her new boyfriend Taquan.

Anyway, back to fleeing the island. I was amongst another band of ‘Caribbean’ brothers and sisters, in Nassau. The Bahamas are not in the Caribbean, but they are in our regional organization, CARICOM. Bahamians have had a long modern history of being invaded by other Caribbean nations: they had policemen, teachers and nurses come from Barbados to work; they had Jamaicans come to be domestic workers; they had Haitians fleeing poverty and natural disasters to work as gardeners and odd jobs men. They have a little love and a lot of dislike for many of those ‘West Indians’. But, they put most of that aside by being ultra fanatical when they were watching their athletes try to make it to first place in a bunch of running events, called the World Relays. They upped their self-love. A policeman met me in the stadium, and I was decked out in the bright gold, with flashes of green and black, that is the Jamaican flag’s colour. “Welcome to the best island on Earth,” he told me. I smiled, and gave him back a little sweetie: “When did Nassau become a suburb of Kingston?” I asked. He smiled and twirled his baton, as if he were ready to make an exchange with me, then raised himself to his full height of 6 feet 5. I took the message and walked up to my seat with my box of fired chicken wings and fries.

Being away gives me the chance to see what is usually up close from afar, but I also get to see how others see what is Jamaica. A lady I sat next to talked to me about “How Jamaicans are so violent”. I know she meant our horrific murder rate. But, she said that while her own island is in the grip of a chronic upsurge in murders. We block out all else, it seems. “But, you all have some great musicians, but why do you always have to sing about sex?” I didn’t have an immediate answer for that one, but I know that the local stations play a lot of Jamaican dancehall music, so I presume that the ‘sex’ sells. “Bey, your people can run fast.” I had to agree. Yohan ‘The Beast’ Blake had just blazed down the track, dubbed the fastest on the planet by Bahamian PM, Perry Christie (whom I had hope would shuffle for the IAAF offiicials while he begged for more years of hosting the relays). Blake anchored the 4×200 metres relay team to a new world record, eliminating a 20 year old record held by a team anchored by the grating Carl Lewis. He would get it in spades from Jamaicans moments after, as he has had little to say that was good or complimentary about Jamaican sprinters, and has often cast aspersions on them. “Whaddya say, now, Carlee? Na-na-na-na! Our record, ooh!” The conga line would soon start swaying.

So, the trip ‘a foreign’ was a good escape, seeing us at our best. The crowds were well behaved and the Jamaican massive was numberous. Our influence was greater than on the track. I went to get food and was pleased to see the longest line in front of a stall with a sign saying ‘Bellyful’: it was serving Jamaican food. Ackee and salt fish–named ‘cod’; boiled ‘food’ (which looked like green bananas and yam); and escobish fish.

Bellyfull of laughs, if nothing else
Bellyfull of laughs, if nothing else

What the…? Esco-what? I looked more carefully at the sign. They had ‘dumplin‘, too. I should have been grateful that they left it at that. But, I also saw the ultimate food insult: ‘peas n rice‘ Oh, my G….! No! Jamaicans cook and eat rice and peas; it’s cooked with red peas (kidney beans) and coconut milk. Bahamians eat peas and rice; it’s made with pigeon (gungo) peas and may have salt pork in it. THEY ARE NOT THE SAME! Changing the words around is not a trivial difference. A nuh di saym sinting nun at all. Cha! I need to talk to the Jamaican High Commissioner in The Bahamas.

Fortunately, my memories of The Bahamas is filled with episodes that are much less distressing that that at the food stall.

I got back to the island on Sunday afternoon. I had missed the traditional Labour Day holiday projects, and I looked around for signs of what had been done. New cross walks? Freshly painted police stations? Newly manicured roadway bushes? I didn’t see a dicky bird all the way from the airport to my uptown home. I checked the online papers. People had been wielding paint brushes, machetes, and brooms island-wide, but not that I could tell.

What had they really been doing? Well, a good amount of tracing and cussing of other people. PLEEEASE! One MP had decided to deride anyone of the opposing political strip with the adjective ‘dutty’. Well, that’s not nice, at the best of times. Name-calling is more than a bit childish, but when you are in the school playground that passes for Parliament, what else should we expect. The man is a trained mathematician, though. Come up with something a bit more creative, eh. How about ‘you lopsided Pythagoran’, or ‘you unsolved differential’? At least, pander to our intellects.

I’m sure everyone would have preferred an hour more of what the now-MP was saying in the video. You plus that, multiply this, minus the next one, and you gone clear. I know that when you put all that chalk on the blackboard, you must make it clean again. No one wants to work with a ‘dutty’ board.

Another of the ilk had decided that a funeral was the place to put forward a new platform: ‘Vigilante justice: where we cut only what is needed’. Well, the post of finance minister is not vacant, yet, but we know where to go if we need someone ready to wield the hatchet. I blinked. The world was still sinning around me. I don’t drink. It must be something in the air.

Both politicians have issued apologies, so that makes everything all right, and we can get back to some good fresh cussing, now that the air and slate have been cleared. That’s not how it works? You want admonition from their party leader and maybe sanctions from her or the local parties? What country you living in man? This is a democrassy. We cherish our freedom of speech. Bring on ‘the band of 12’.

I had left the island just after a massive crowd of 12 people had been parading with placards in protest at what they thought was an attack on freedom of speech. The mainstream media had given this credence with a saturation coverage that was mind-boggling: front page spread, extended interviews. This for a group who wanted to complain about the undue influence and power of a lobby of not-likeminded people. The fact that ganja seeps into the blood stream from many sources hit me. I could feel myself swooning again as I turned my head back to its proper position. The ‘protestors’ were due to mount another ‘massive’ display on Monday. I did not catch the news, but again, I saw the papers. The media really should get out more and tour the country. We are regaled with scenes of people wailing and thrashing themselves about in ‘ghettos’ over water leaks and police harassment and indiscriminate shutting off of electricity, and we know that thousands and affected, but the coverage of the ‘band of 12’ must take the biscuit for misuse of resources. Let them post a blog with pictures, rather than giving all that free airing on the back of the profits that the TV stations and newspapers should be making.

So, I am back to where I started. We need to step back more and take a good look at what and who we are. I am not into real self-mockery of the kind that say “I hate me, lousy Jamaican!” But, I know a buffoon when I see one. We need to laugh at the man who is always putting out his had for ‘a food’ only to withdraw it when food is offered because he really wants ‘a money’ to buy something else. We need to wonder how many policemen sitting in the shade of a tree does it take to catch one of the hundreds of speeding drivers going along the highway? Is that a radar gun or merely a prize from some flea market? Oh, it is more fun to just lean against the squad car and joke about the latest news from INDECOM?

I need a good belly laugh and I may have to just provide the material myself. I want more of Roger Clarke trying to convince me that cows will not be flying over the moon, which is the only way they can be stolen and not spotted. I need news of another project important to the nation, but about which no one has any details, yet, but ‘will be revealed soon’. I love Chinese food, but it also gives me heart burn.

Jamaica! Jamaica! Jamaica, we love you!


Set up to a tee

In almost everything, Jamaica must be a follower, not a leader; one possible exception is in certain styles of popular music, another is in world athletics, where we are sprint kings and queens. That latter status was tested over the weekend, during the inaugural IAAF World Relays, in Nassau, The Bahamas. Our crowns slipped a little, but the crowds did not see us deposed. But, in other areas, we are very much followers of fashion.

In recent days, the business of US golf has had its future put under scrutiny. That should give us cause for concern, not least because, that country provides a large portion of our tourists, and most of those who visit Jamaica to play golf. My eyes caught a piece posted by Bloomberg that looked at the chronic decline in various aspect of that sport. The headline grabber was that about 400,000 players left the sport last year, according to the National Golf Foundation, the US trade association. Almost 260,000 women took up golf, but some 650,000 men walked off. Harsh winter weather on the East Coast worsened matters this year by delaying the start of the golfing season for many. Slow sales of clubs and other gear dragged down results for Dick’s Sporting Goods this week, sending its stock on the worst tumble since the retail chain went public in 2002. Money talks, and it seemed to be saying “Fore!”

The trends in Europe and Asia are not the same. However, the USA is acknowledged as the major market in golf, with nearly 27 million players out of a world total of 56 million. For context, 5 million players are in Canada, 5.5 million in continental Europe, 14 million in Japan, and about 4 million in the United Kingdom. According to the same source, the leading market in terms of golf as a sport is the United States, estimated to contribute over US$60 billion to the economy. Europe (aside from the UK) is not a mature golf market; it is still mainly pursued by the elite few (worth $20 billion). The UK, Japan, and Australia all have mature golfing markets. Interestingly, the Caribbean does not feature in terms of numbers in the report produced by the Caribbean Tourism Organisation. I draw heavily on its information for the sport worldwide.

The mature golfing markets of North America, UK, Japan and Australia have stagnated in terms of the number of dedicated golfers in recent years. Membership seems to have reached saturation level; a major contributor to this seems to be the amount of time the sport consumes (average round of golf is around 4 hours). Increasingly, people would rather participate in activities that take a shorter amount of time. We are also in the era of electronics, where entertainment is possible with no physical movement or travel. I am mindful of how much time golf can consume, and try to use little blocks of time to practice, then play quickly without much time spent socialising before or afterwards. That suits my general lifestyle, and allows for the other obligations that need to be addressed. I know many, however, who lounge around after their play, drinking beers, telling jokes, and letting the good times roll. Power to them.

In these markets, the main potential for growth lies with the aging population, which is growing in size in most developed countries. These consumers are becoming increasingly active–they are likely to be either “empty nesters” (parents whose children have left home) or retired, they tend to have more time than their younger counterparts.

The rapidly growing golf markets in Asia, the Middle East and Mexico will contribute to the growth of the golf sector worldwide. However, it is not expected that these countries/regions will contribute to the growth of golf tourism in the short-term, as there will be a delay between actively taking the sport up and travelling to participate. I know people who rave about the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico as golf playing places, but like Mexico, I imagine they will be more like to attract tourists, rather than supply tourists. In that sense, Jamaica is in region where the competition is fierce. Florida is just ideally placed for most of the region, being a hub for many connections from the Americas and from Europe.

In continental Europe the participation rates in golf are low but are increasing steadily (French participation rates are increasing between 5-8% per year). This is the market that demonstrates the most growth potential in terms of golfing holidays. The proliferation of the low-cost airline sector in Europe has had a significant impact on the growth of golfing holidays in Europe, in particular from the UK, but increasingly from other countries too.

Consumers are predominantly male, with the majority being middle-aged (40-55) or retired (55+). Professional and managerial groups dominate the sector. Golf tourists are likely to be members of golf clubs at home:

• United States: Golf participants are generally affluent, they have a higher than average annual income with two-thirds of American golfers earning over $50,000. 65% of golfers are over 40 years of age and 80% are male.
• United Kingdom: Golfers are predominantly (78%) male. 62% are aged between 35-60 and 42% are from the AB socio-economic grouping.
• Canada: Predominantly male with an average age of 48 years. The Canadian consumer tends to combine golfing with business trips. They are likely to be well-educated with a graduate or undergraduate degree. The Greater Toronto Area is the key generating area.
• France: 65% are male, although 70% of golfing tourists will travel with their partner or spouse.

For the Caribbean, much interest is in the potential of golf as a part of its tourism product. But, the sport has an important domestic component, which is something that has been intriguing me for several months. I have not seen data from the Jamaica Golf Association, so the following is largely impressionistic. That impression is that golf in Jamaica is at best stagnant, male-dominated, predominantly played by middle-aged people, who are affluent (often self-made business people). Young players (under 21) exist, and there is a small, but budding crop of good teenagers. The local sport has two separate markets–that for the visiting tourists, mainly on the north coast, and the local players, who are predominantly in the Kingston metropolitan area (but who play there and travel to play on most of the courses, especially on the north coast).

Sponsors are the life blood of the competitive local scene, which is a main feature, with many weekend tournaments, for both charity fund-raising, and club and team competition. They provide funding, material support such as refreshments, as well as prizes. Many sponsors are organisations with at least a smattering of golfers. Over the past month, culminating this coming weekend, we have had the annual LIME Cup, a six team competition, featuring most of the island’s players in match play format. Matches are squeezed into a single day, with morning and afternoon rounds. That is consistent with the usual time demand on players–one day, often Saturdays, but for LIME Cup, Sundays. We have just had the National Amateur Championships, played at Caymanas Golf Course. But, charity events feature most of the calendar, and the beneficiaries are well-known and often well rewarded; the tournaments are usually well supported.

My thoughts have focused on how the local sport integrates, or not, its activities with other aspects of the economy. My impression, for instance, is that the main hotels do not promote golf either as a tourism product, or for local players. The north coast courses near Montego Bay are the main attraction for tourists. I was recently at Cinnamon Hill Golf Course, which abuts the Hilton hotel. Guests from the hotel sat on parts of the course watching the play going on; some were walking the course, for recreational purposes; some played on the day before the tournament. When I have stayed at that hotel (while my wife was at conferences), I was fed misinformation about golf opportunities. Basically, the hotel is not interested in this feature that stares it in the face. Why? I have not found out, fully, but have heard stories of ‘strained relationships’. Money, maybe, doesn’t talk loudly enough. Another course, Half Moon, is directly associated with the luxury resort of the same name. Other Montego Bay courses have mixed hotel associations: Ironshore (no hotel), White Witch (adjacent to Cinnamon Hill), and Tryall (resort and villas). The visitor should be a willing captive, if he or she is a golfer. I have had the frustration many times of being at a hotel close to a golf course, but being unable to play for a range of personal or logistical reasons. These courses, with their lovely vistas, palm trees, and sandy layouts, often fall into the category of idyllic. Serious golfers would do anything to play them. Are they helped by their hosts? Not that much, is my impression. We have in Jamaica what I think is a unique feature, at least six good quality courses, along the same strip of road, not more than a hour between the first and the last (running from Ocho Rios to Montego Bay). For instance, why do we not see a package that includes a hotel stay with the chance to play all six courses (or some of them) as a major pull? I am not an expert in tourism, but this seems to be more about good business rather than the nature of the business. Maybe, I have misunderstood, but I don’t see a real linkage between the courses. Admitted, they are all under separate management. But, I think back to a municipal area in Maryland, where the many courses were grouped together and a ‘pass’ could be bought that made playing more than one of the courses a tempting option, with reduced rates. Is that sort of idea too much thinking outside the tee box?

The Kingston area courses do not seem to be of any interest to the city’s hotels. I may be mistaken, but at a glance, the option for businessmen to stay in New Kingston, and then play golf is not prominently placed. It would be no more than a 3-40 minute drive to either of the two courses. Lounging by the pool or cozying up to the hotel lobby bar is maybe better for the hotels, but the tourism product should be seen holistically.

I have also looked at what the courses offer locals in return for membership payments. This seems to be a mixed bag:

  • Good courses; some very good (eg Cinnamon Hill), some good and extensively used for championship play (eg Caymanas)
  • Some less good (eg Constant Spring, which is nestled in an urban area, and has suffered much from recent bad weather–hurricanes and then drought, and is trying to restore its landscape). It is very accessible from many directions.
  • Coaching and training are offered, as each course has its professional, and maybe an assistant. Constant Spring also has a solid programme teaching young players
  • No public courses on the island. This limits the opportunities for less-affluent players, but does not deny them completely.

I’ve not looked at the sport’s financial situation, and may pursue that with the JGA in due course. But, my own participation has pointed to the following thoughts.

Are prices reasonable?

  • Rounds cost US$30-60 in green fees, on average (north coast courses are more expensive and geared to tourists’ ability to pay; JGA member discounts apply).
  • Caddies are often obligatory. Why? Employment needs. Risks (bushes can hold treacherous plants, which the unwary may regret touching). Local knowledge (they really know their course layouts and greens). They can add much local colour to a four hour tour. They are reasonably priced, cost US$20 (plus tips), on average.
  • Carts are obligatory on north coast courses. I imagine that should speed up play, but also adds to safety and security, in case of bad weather or other issues; some of the courses are hilly. (I never used a cart before heading to a course in The Bahamas, and was glad when I did and lightning started to strike and I was a good 10 minutes drive back to the safety of the clubhouse. On the other side, I’ve seem people roll carts over, and I was recently stuck in sand in a cart, which was funny at the time, but could have been otherwise.)
  • Cost of upkeep is high (higher than in US?). Why? Imported materials? Water, an essential, may not be as readily available as desired.
  • Do rounds represent clear value for money? That may be a question for the 19th hole. I met a man in The Bahamas over the weekend, who lives in Fort Lauderdale. He’s trying to play as many different courses as he can. When I told him the cost of playing in Montego Bay, he jumped at the prospect of hooking up for a round in the future.

The questions may have answers that are more grey than black and white. Let those stay there and others be added.Tryall

Looking around, I see that clubs also survive through other functions:

  • Constant Spring is used regulary for concerts, social events
  • Caymanas is used for conferences, seminars etc.

That’s not a surprise: golf clubs are often wonderfully attractive locations, with spacious clubhouses, that lend themselves to large gatherings. The club in the US, where I first played golf, had its course used most midweek afternoons by corporate groups (of say 40 or so players), but was also used for weddings, conferences, seminars, etc. It makes good sense. Tiger Woods is famous for, amongst other things, renting out all of Sandy Lane hotel and golf course, for his wedding.

I’m watching the local golf space keenly. Caymanas has a lease that is due for renewal. I am interested in who bids on that and wins. Will they be people who have an interest and vision that changes golf from being a somewhat narrowly marketed sport? Will they seek to have synergies developed that brings golf more to the local communities? We have a country full of athletes. Many could excel at sports other than the staples of football, cricket and athletics. That may need nothing more than some early and regular exposure.

I am not going to tee off on the golf community, but I wonder if the golf community has teed itself up to see that this is a long game that needs a lot of attention to the short game.

One feature that has arisen in looking at how to stem or reverse golf’s decline is to make it more fun. ‘Hack’ golf has come into vogue, with equipment manufacturer, TaylorMade, compiling ideas such as using larger holes, letting players kick footballs to ‘holes’, taking away some of the stiff rules that may be really important in professional play, but act really more as irritants to those who just want to play recreationally. This may be something for Jamaica to look at, and see if indeed what it can help lead with is some of the ideas to bring fun into golf. We have the reputation for cool, not stodgy, so we should think about playing to our strengths. Take a look at a ‘hack’ golf video and see what may inspire

On your marks.

The inaugural IAAF World Relays, in Nassau, The Bahamas, has been my family’s point of focus since Friday. It was put on the calendar at Christmas and other important events have had to fall in line behind it. So, I missed the Jamaican National Amateur Golf Championships over the long holiday weekend. It would have been my first try, but I hope to get a chance next year. Move on. The weekend allowed the two sides of my life to coincide. Of course, my wife’s family was in full display. But, my Jamaican family got a good airing: one cousin was part of the Jamaican athletics delegation, and we hooked up with another cousin on the same side of our family, who’s been living in The Bahamas for about 20 years. Both sets met over an evening BBQ, which started late because of meetings for the Jamaican track team.

Major sporting events take a lot of organizing and it was nice to know that one of my wife’s family was behind much of the logistics of the IAAF event. Some if her friends were also involved in the daily running of the meet. I took a walk around yesterday, before the main raiders began, to take a look around the stadium. By chance, I bumped into my wife’s friend and she took me around the back room of the event. I explained to her that I try to understand what is going on. We looked at how sponsors’ guests were greeted and treated. We looked at the volunteers working. We checked how the volunteers were treated: they need food and water, and have parking issues, too. We looked at the local tv feed. I heard what the Junkanoo players were supposed to be doing, then we saw they were not doing that. Rather them, than this boy managing all of that. I rushed back to my seat just in time for the first main event.

I found myself sitting next to a very funny lady and her husband. We got into a banter because I was sporting my Jamaican colours. “You sure you’re in the right section?” Stuff like that. We moved past the friendly banter and talked a little about families. She was a sprinter back in the day; so was I. Her sons were also runners, now working. She told me her family name: that’s important for Bahamians, who link their names to the many ‘family islands’ and relish their connections to parts other than New Providence. She was ‘from Acklins’, she told me with a twist. I gradually understood what was that twist. As we talked more, it became clear that she was connected to my wife’s family, at least through a genealogical link to common friends. “Ask your mother in law if she knows Miss….?” she suggested. I did. She did. My new BFF smiled. She goaded me more. It was revealing. Her sons were friends of a younger member of my wife’s family. So, not went. My daughter and I had been given promotional tattoo stickers and I shared some with my new friend. I showed her how to apply it; she chose to out it on her arm. “I’ll never wash this arm again,” she said, “I can wash with one hand.” I quipped that this was a great opportunity for her husband to step up his game; the three of us rolled over laughing. She said she would put another tattoo on her other arm 😉 So. We went on.

The races were exciting.

Jamaican fans were in much evidence; many work and live in Nassau. They were there in clumps, including as part of their Bahamian households, if they were domestic workers. I had my whistle ready and was washing noise over the sea of Bahamians in which I sat. Day one had been stellar for Jamaica: a world record in the 4×200 meters relay, anchored by Yohan Blake, with no Usain Blake. ‘The Beast’ bared his really long nails for the photo opportunities. The team draped itself in the national flag. Jamaicans and Bahamians went wild. That’s how the night ended.

For day 2, the crowd expected more of the same. Jamaica’s prowess is renowned: “What do you put in that yellow yam? It’s organic?” I was asked, with some raised eyebrows. But, it was not to be coll runnings for the brethren and sistrin.

We made a total hash of the baton exchange in the fist leg of the 4×400 A final.

That’s the easiest handover, and it looked like simple lack of concentration. We were in lane 8, on the outside, and near the lead. Instead, baton on the ground, we were out of the race. The incoming runner held his head in his hands as his team mate tried to reduce what was now a gap of some 50 meters. I would not like to be in the team meeting later. I told people that Jamaica does not drop batons. We pull hamstrings. We run out of our box. But we pass the stick safely. The USA team has become notorious for relay foul-ups; they can keep that. Not us! The USA team win, which was their destiny. We could have come close. It’s history now that we were 8th.

The women’s 4×200 meters final was billed as the ‘Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce show’ by the announcer, Ato Bolden. I said to those around me that was a jinx. The women ran and the exchanges did not loom great, and the ‘Pocket Rocket’ trailed in third. Her gold and black hair, with red bow, looked lovely. The running? I mentioned that she’d been injured, recently. “No excuses!”was the cry around me. None given. USA won again. We would have had a stiff race with a stronger team, but no crying.

Last event of the night: the marquee event, the men’s 4×100. No Bolt, but Blake. No Asafa. But, the team had clocked 37.71 in the heats, for a world-leading time; Great Britain looked dangerous, with 37.93, winning their heat. No other team broke 38 seconds. We pulled lane 6. I did not like the vibes, after the less-than-inspired preceding relays. My palms were sweating. But, my whistle was ready. The start was faulty: France’s lead off man, wearing one black and one white knee-high socks, was injured, looked uneasy, seemed to step out of his blocks, he was shown the red card. Some Gallic arm waving followed, the event went on to the restart. Bang! We got an early lead and extended it with Weir on the second leg. The exchanges were safe; that’s all we needed. The baton went into Blake’s hand and he had a good lead, which he kept easily for the win in 37.77. Job done. Crowd went wild.image

We started to think about dealing with the exiting traffic. Rain started to fall softly. It soon became a downpour as we headed to the car. We sat and took our time, but I got bored and ‘turned Bahamian’, finding a dirt track parallel to the main road. We were past the jam in moments 🙂 We took my wife’s sister home, out west, grabbed a tub of peas soup, and headed back east to Paradise Island. We had our nightcaps.

All of our enjoyment had another side, of course. Economies like ours have developed depending on foreign visitors. The Bahamas has taken a lead, among the English-speaking Caribbean nations, with some prestige international events. PM Perry Christie baldly begged the IAAF to let his country have the event for more than another year; he knows the added revenue and activity, even for volunteers, is important. The hotels were packed over the weekend. It was a holiday in Jamaica, but also running into the US Memorial Day holiday, today. Visitors could stay a little longer. Teams came with more,this just runners. They were taken care of in their hotels, but they would be tempted to spend on duty-free items, on conch salads, on sky juice (gin, coconut water, and condensed milk), or just hang out, but think about coming back with friends.

I spoke with an American visitor in the breakfast line yesterday. He was in Nassau with his family, for the holiday weekend. He would not be playing golf here. But, he’d been here several times: repeat visitors are crucial. I touted Jamaica, with its great courses in the north coast. We exchanged card; I’d gladly host his in my country. We need his dollars, too.

The Bahamas has a better visitor package than Jamaica in that Nassau is compact and has great features, such as Atlantis. For visitors from America, a major benefit is that connections are many and varied. Returning, Customs is cleared in Nassau. Jamaica has its problem, not least of which is drug trafficking. The violent reputation of our people precedes us. Even Bahamians are leery of Jamaicans. We need to embrace that our good ‘brands’, such as our athletes, have to ward off our bad ‘brands’, like crime. One world record does not erase the chilling thought of a nation of murderers. We are all duty bound to work for our good brands and against the bad ones.

Bahamians are harsh on their own. The meet had started with a minor snafu: the microphone had delivered no sound when an IAAF official was making his speech. We could see his lips moving, but not a word heard. People waved their arms to get tech support. It came, eventually. Their athletes performed well and also messed up: baton drop by the women in the 4×400 heats, and the culprit did not seem rushed to pick it up and get moving again; another squad that was put together ‘last week’. They local crowd went berserk in the men’s 4×400 final. Their ace, Chris Brown, did not disappoint, and his 3rd leg brought the home team in leading. All were up, horns blaring, bells clanging. But, the USA clawed them back, and squeezed them into 2nd place. Initial disappointment. Eventual acceptance and joy.

The country will have a fillip for a few more days and other economic issues will slip from views a few more days. The financial weaknesses will come back: VAT is coming with little love, but it’s generated a hit song. That may be a first.

Jamaica will have to face its realities, too.

The other countries were not eclipsed, totally.

Kenya will go home with two world records and US$100,000. That’s not shabby. Little St. Kitts and Nevis ran out of its socks. All added to the thrills.

Those who did not qualify for the main finals got second chances in B finals. One such team, the Ukraine’s men’s 4×100 team, won the B event, and set a national record. I hope they take that back home with the excited joy they showed last night. Their country needs it.

I’m a great believer in sport as an important part of life balance. Playing it, of course, counts, but so too does watching. It releases stresses and lets emotions flow. Some take it too seriously. But, better to get passionate about something that be grey and flat.

The IAAF event was time out for many, but we need that to be able to thrash out our  life’s other issues.

The good, the bad, and the ugly (May 25, 2014): no waggonist, me edition

Yesterday was a momentous day for me. I should have had no reason to beg excuses. The football team, which I’ve supported all my life, were playing a final on Wembley’s hallowed turf. It was a match that I wanted to watch, but, thanks to the vagaries of modern global marketing of television rights, I was forced to play a round of golf with two doctors instead. I never knew the drama of the match as it unfolded. Again, globalisation made it nigh impossible for me to track the match via the Internet. The cost of roaming is too prohibitive. Had I stayed in the swanky clubhouse at the golf course, I could have used their wifi connection to get Internet access. Instead, I was getting stuck in sand chasing a small coloured ball.

View of Albany Links Course, Nassau

Mementoes of a day's play

When I’d finished with the neurosurgeon and the spine surgeon, I checked my news feed. My team had won the final. I then took a stroll through history, Internet-style. I went back through tweets from before the match, so replayed events 140 characters at a time. I will bore you only with some highlights. At half-time, the score was 0-0. Near the 65th minute, my team had a player ejected; so played the last quarter of the match with 10 men, versus 11. After 90 minutes, the score was still 0-0. I thought that we had won on penalty kicks: not my liking, but take it. But, no. About two minutes into added time, Bobby Zamora scored. What!?

Watch how Zamora scores in injury time the goal that sends QPR to the Barclays PremierLeague

I am sure that I would’ve needed at least two changes of underwear had I seen this live, and maybe a defibrillator. One of the team greats, Rodney Marsh, who was in attendance, tweeted ‘Destiny’.

So, QPR will be back in the English Premier League next season, after only a season away. I know of at least one other Jamaican who supports QPR; I met him on his holiday here last year.

Last week, Jamaicans who follow English teams, were alight because ‘their’ team had won or not the EPL. I’m going to presume that few, if any, would follow those teams if they were not in the EPL. They would flee like rats on a sinking ship. Their waggons only have pull when they’re on the high road. In the ditch? See ya!

All of the emotional energy I have, would have been spent had I seen the match.

I really wanted to write about what the case of Brendan Bain has told me about Jamaicans. But, in part, I won’t because someone has said all I wanted to on it already, and with elegant simplicity. Read yesterday’s letter in the Gleaner about his falling on his sword. The baying and partial presentation in the mainstream media on this topic really showed the colours of some people. That’s not really a surprise when emotions get raised. But, I was more bothered by some of the blinkered views. Some of that was like the Jamaican EPL fan, partisan, without really going deeply into the history of why they should be so. Anyway, I leaving that subject. “Let your meat stop your mouth,” and old man used to say.

I’m saving emotional energy for a day of more finals, when Jamaican athletes go for more wins at the IAAF World Relays. They left nothing behind last night, with a world record in the 4×200 metres relay, anchored by Yohan Blake, while Usain Bolt had not been on the team.

Awesome! Beastly. I will there again, in my national colours of gold, surrounded by a sea of aquamarine last night. Today, the hosts will wear gold, so I shall don black and green. I’ll stay seated on the waggon that I’ve ridden all my life.

What time is it? Relay time

The day has arrived: the first annual IAAF World Relays will start this afternoon. Jamaica is represented by a team of 40 of our best runners, and will face stiff competition from opponents coming from some 43 countries. Unplanned, my daughter and I became honorary team members, when we travelled to Nassau squuezed together with stars like Yohan Blake and Warren Weir. They’re members of our reigning 4×100 metres World Championship gold medal team. My daughter had not missed her photo opportunity with ‘The Beast’ at Kingston’s airport.

Beauty and The Beast

She spent most of the flight tongue-tied whenever he turned to speak to her. I wanted her to appreciate that great athletes are just ordinary people, like us, but she had him elevated on a pedestal.

At the airport, we’d seen, however, that Jamaicans feel their athletes are ordinary. Kerron Stewart, one our finest female sprinters, was sitting alone, quietly making some phone calls. I prodded my daughter to say hello. Just as we were doing that, up strode another lady. Bold as brass, she looked at Kerron and said “I like you, but yiu run all wrong. You need to push your foot out so.” She motioned with her leg. My daughter and I looked quizzically at each other, then at Kerron, whose eyes were looking a bit worried. “But, we love you just the same,” added the lady, who then walked on. I don’t want to be size-ist, but the lady looked like a black Tamara Press with a waddle. “Does that happen often?” I asked Kerron. “Yes,” she replied. We gave no running advice just a warm encouraging word and walked away, shaking our heads. Apparently, Jamaicans are all qualified coaches and commentators. That’s what friends of our close to the team told us. What a people!

Well, the runners have trained hard to represent their countries. The fans have supported or suffered loyally. The Bahamians have been starved of major relay successes, compared to Jamaica. But, if noise matters, they’ll come to succeed on the support side, with goombay drums booming and cow bells clanging. I wonder how others will support. Vuvuzelas have gone international. Will Germans and French have accordions? Will Canadians croon like Justin Bieber? Please, no. The British? No stop ‘Rule Brittania’? I will let you know. I have my whistle.

My biggest fear for the meets is conflict between the fans. My wife and her family are true-true Bahamians. They bleed aquamarine. But, their son-in-law has clear Jamaican roots, though he’s been adopted as a Bahamian over the years. The boy even rushed in Junkanoo one year, something his wife cannot claim. His mother-in-law has nursed roast turkey neck for him many times. Surely, they can count on him this weekend.

Well, relationships have hit rocks before. The boy has an array of black, green and gold colour to choose from in his shirts. He has a cousin high in the Jamaican team administration. He’s just gone back to his birthplace. He’s feeling his Jamaican rise. He’s noticed he bleeds green and gold when he shaves. I feel a CARICOM regional disintegration moment coming.

That he may side with Jamaica may have to be accepted. But, will he tempt some defectors? His daughter? Already, a Jamaican team hugger? Her cousin, who claimed loudly between tearing into BBQ ribs and chicken that “Blake in the M.A.N.”? It could get messy, like his sauce-covered fingers.

I can hear the lawyers now: “Your honour, our client admits irreconcilable differences began to appear during the heats of the relays…He begs for yiur honour’s understanding and let him keep his golf clubs, while relinquishing all other assets…”

Jamaica blog day: Environment vs Development. Baha-mar meet Jamaica’s logistics hub

I left Jamaica’s shores on May 22, to arrive on those of another CARICOM country, an archipelago, The Bahamas. Back home, much concern exists over what development of a logistics and transhipment hub may mean for the natural environment, especially the Goat Islands. The concerns involve what may happen, and who may do it: a Chinese investor has approval for the project. In The Bahamas, we get to see some effects of another Chinese-financed and built development on the local environment with the Baha-mar resort project.

China has a poor reputation regarding care for the environment. It is a major consumer of natural resources. It is a major polluter of the environment. It is on a development path that sees it doing more of both things. In Jamaica, the hub project may involve the introduction of coal-powered energy production. The world’s major multilateral financing agency, the World Bank, is pulling away from such projects; so too is the main multilateral financing agency in the CARICOM region, the Inter-American Development Bank.

So, why would Jamaica run headlong towards coal? A good question, but one which its government has not answered other than to indicate that it would provide substantially cheaper energy than is available on that island. That can’t be the whole answer, which would require looking at what costs such energy production could and may inflict on the island. The Jamaican population would love to have a fuller answer.

I have made no deep analysis of the Baha-mar project, but have watched how it has changed the landscape of New Providence. What have I seen?

New and extensive highways. From the airport, in the west, through Baha-mar, and moving east, New Providence has new four-lane roads. More concrete. More asphalt. Fewer trees. Fewer shrubs. More metallic light poles. More solar-powered lights.

At and near the project, I have seen new buildings: hotel complex; police station; new offices and retail stores. I have also seen a new boardwalk, used by a few tourists and many Chinese workers. I have seen a lake and its mangroves exposed: it had been hidden by bush but now can be reached and used. It contains many fish and birds. I cannot say if its exposure has led to its being abused. When I last looked closely, it was clean. People enjoy the vista it offers, and its tranquillity.

Existing hotels near the project are being refurbished.

To get all of this, The Bahamas has used much more electricity from its oil-powered energy generation plant at Lyford Cay, in the west. Someone can check what that has added to their import bill. Did they earn more foreign exchange to pay for that? Is the country holding more debt as a result?

Remember, I’m only giving visual impressions and focusing on obvious things. Why? That’s all most people will perceive. The amount of money and resources used will be a blur to most people. They will notice more or less. They like or loathe what they see. Residents will know how things have changed and feel happy or aggrieved about the changes, some of which affected them directly. For instance, construction of the highways meant huge upheavals of traffic patterns, with congestion and delays. It also meant dirt and noise and grime. It meant some local residents got jobs. But, many jobs were for Chinese workers.

The local economy got a boost but took a hit while the project was underway. I won’t try to gauge how that balanced; other things happened to affect that.

All of this goes to what Jamaica may soon experience. For us, it will be different in an important way. New Providence is small, though it holds most of the national population. Baha-mar looms large. You can see the hotel complex from almost anywhere on the island. The highways have altered significantly travel on the island, with more speed. I imagine everyone in Nassau has felt the project. Have the people on Grand Bahama, another, larger island in the archipelago? Not that they would notice.

Jamaica’s hub project will loom large over Kingston and its immediate environs, but may be invisible to most of Jamaica.

That may mean how it’s perceived becomes something for those near the capital. Its costs and benefits will seem more limited.

That may be something that the government has exploited. Those who may feel the hub development can be isolated, even made to seem small and insignificant. While some opposition to the project may exist, it too can seem limited. By extension, opponents can be more easily picked off.

Thus, Jamaica’s hub development poses an interesting problem of how to mobilise national concerns over what may seem to be a local matter. The national benefits and costs hardly factor in if you’re in Portland or Westmoreland, to take two extreme points far to the north of Kingston. But, how much of the hub project’s impact will really be only local?

I don’t know the answer, but pose this as a challenge to those wanting to raise the level of debate on the topic. Jamaicans need to see and hear convincing arguments about what the hub will mean for parishes outside Kingston, St. Andrew, St. Catherine, and Clarendon.

Awkward moments

This morning, I’m due to travel to Bahamaland. It’s for a good cause (I was going to add ‘very’, but read last week that it’s very overused, and have been avoiding it like the plague ever since). The inaugural IAAF World Relays, will get underway in Nassau. This has been on the family calendar since before Christmas. So, the fact that, in Jamaica, the National Amateur Golf Championships also take place over our Labour Day holiday weekend is like a bunker ahead of a ball: I don’t see it. Family harmony preserved on that point, I can move forward. How long the harmony lasts will be interesting to see: I am Jamaican; my wife is Bahamian. Awkward. Jamaicans will be representing in fullish fashion: Usain Bolt will not be running on the track (and I hope he wont be just profiling on some ad while his fellow runners are speeding along). So, the harmony thing may get strained. The Bahamians are capable of making some huge noise for a nation of so few. Those cow bells kaliking may drown out all other supporting sound. I hope the Jamaicans come with drums. I will be packing my whistle. I do not, and will not, own a vuvuzela. But, much as my mother-in-law says she loves me, I feel that the blindness of love may not last. I am taking out some insurance, though, and packing some sliced East Indian mango from a cousin’s house to sweeten Grandma’s mouth. Hope the Customs people don’t give any trouble with that.

Harmony may take a little bump, too, if I get to play some golf–something that has not happened before, despite often being a hair’s breath from one of the loveliest courses I know, on Paradise Island. This time, I have tried to make plans, but my hook-up is still not sure. But, I live in hope. My golf crazy cousin, has decided to make the trip to Nassau–I think he may be there in some official JAA’s capacity, but that’s not important. He may have locked in his playing, and I will have to remind him of our blood ties, even if I have to caddy for him. That wouldn’t be so bad, because I’d get paid. Anyway, wish me luck on that. I’ve packed some drop-dead golf clothes, which may see me deported unseemly publish display.

My daughter is still asleep, as I write, but is very excited to rejoin her cousins and friends (whom she proudly recognized last night, when pressed on why she was ready to go). The fact that Grandma is reported to be preparing peas soup for our arrival was not lost on my child. She has some serious Caribbean genes, and walks with her belly. I’m so proud of her.

We’ve a few boring errands to run before getting to the airport, including taking my car in for a service. I’ve visited the nice ATL service facility in New Kingston once already with this car. It was a mixed experience that left me lamenting this feature of life in Jamaica, and was a reminder of how human interaction can get unnecessarily cumbersome because of simple dishonesty and unwillingness to accept mistakes.

Yesterday was one of those days in public discourse that I like to witness. A controversy has been raging this week about the future of Professor Brendan Bain, ‘one of the Caribbean’s pioneers in clinical infectious disease practice and a leading medical authority on the HIV epidemic in the region’. He was dismissed earlier this week because of testimony he gave as an expert witness in a case in Belize. Professor Bain was director of the Regional Coordinating Unit of the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training (CHART) Network, and gave his testimony in 2012,on behalf of a group of churches that lobbied to retain Belize’s sodomy law. Various human and LGBT rights groups objected to this, mainly as a conflict of interest, but also on the use of disputed and outdated data.

I would not call what has gone on a ‘discussion’.

The matter of homosexuality does not lend itself to civil discourse for very long in Jamaica. (and in much of the Caribbean). The language used is often very telling. Gay rights groups are often positioned in a distant way with terms such as ‘they’. Also, reference is often made to their ‘strength’ and ‘power’–based on what, I have not yet understood. We also hear of ‘their agenda’. All of this makes it sound as if this particular lobby group has tactics and issues that make them extraordinary. Fear and loathing are rarely far from the surface, and many people who oppose such groups, latch on quickly to some pieces of religious argument to support their vehement opposition to what they often refer to as ‘abominable behaviour”.

A group of a dozen people mounted a picket outside UWI’s regional headquarters in Mona yesterday; that got a lot of airplay. I wish that every group of a dozen people is treated equally: I am looking forward to my time on the evening news when I get back. The way the media latched onto this yesterday was revealing. I’ve seen bigger groups making a fuss and yet never feature in a clip, let alone extensive interviews. What’s this talk about ‘power’ and ‘strength’ and ‘agendas’ all about? What are the facts? Awkward, again?

I’ve had a few conversations with Caribbean people about the Biblical support for their arguments, and what abominable behaviour means. They end up being noisy and confused, not least because parts of Biblical writings that do not go in support of the arguments opposing gay rights are conveniently pushed aside. Or, other abominable behaviour and sins are seen as…I’m not really sure what. Maybe, this is a turning point, and the next public announcement of sinning will bring forward a crowd, much bigger than 12 people, I hope, against murder, rape, or incest. Anyway, I will tread carefully around this minefield, within which one is likely to sense lightning bolts being hurled (an unintentional slide back to track and field).

Anyway, I don’t know what possessed me last night, but I decided that the vilification and half-arguments were getting a bit much, and I decided to engage in a few rebuttals. I ended up collecting a lot of red herrings and had enough to make one of Jamaica’s favourite dishes, Solomon Gundy, which is great on water crackers. A goodly number of these herrings were being cast by people often seen and read in the mainstream media, which I think give them ‘strength’ and ‘power’ to run with their ‘agendas’, but let’s not muddy the waters, with inconvenient truths, or even facts. Fact has become a great word to bandy around. ‘Facts are facts’, some people will holler. Really? is often my reply. I’ve lived long enough with people to know that facts are not often seen the same. So-called facts can often be denied. I’ve also been in a few situations where upholders of the law cited ‘facts’ in courts of law, which judges have then turned around and said were not supported by other facts, so were dismissed and rejected. What I see with my eyes may not be what you see. Likewise, with other experiences. Some facts are easy to understand and verify. How much money do I have in my pocket? We can check and agree that it’s none. But, other facts can get tricky to verify. When they involve what is called ‘data’, then fact is often a mixture of evidence and opinion. Take a look at Jamaica, and see which ‘facts’ about the country are shared by any, many, few, or none.

I heard what was quite a reasonable discussion last night on the topic of Professor Bain, during AllAngles, a current affairs discussion programme hosted by Dionne Jackson-Miller. She asked hard questions of UWI’s vice-chancellor, Nigel Harris. He gave what sounded like solid replies, and indicated that the decision was not the result of a brief consideration, but had been part of a long dialogue of several months. The panelists, from the Medical Association of Jamaica, and a spokesperson for human and gay rights groups, also discussed and answered questions well, including holding onto views that seemed clear and not biting on their being twisted.

I suspect that this was one of the less-heated discussion that was going on. But, so be it. I will no doubt see a lot of hyperbolic commentary today that makes it seem that all people’s rights of free expression are being trampled. I may not be in a position to argue back whether this same concern is partial or general, and ask if the rights of some other individuals to freely express themselves in Jamaica are not trampled by those same ‘defenders’. But, let me not get ahead of myself. I have no particular axe to grind in favour of any group, but I do have a liking for arguments that seem fair and make sense. Rightly or wrongly, I am not gripped by a certain fear that seems to pervade some of the arguments. I cannot tell if that is because of where I spent most of my life, or if it’s just something that I have never had. Some lifestyles are not my preference, but I know that they exist and are practised by others. I do not see that as threatening me or my lifestyle. Whatever moral arguments I may wish to use in favour of what I do, I can have thrown back at me.

It seems that Jamaicans throw a disproportionate amount of energy into opposing certain things, yet save that energy when it could oppose other things that are really more detrimental to all of our lives. Need I go back to last week’s topic of electricity theft? Should I touch on how we do not really care that much for our children?

I hear the sound of tiny feet overhead. How convenient.



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