You want it now? Let me check our procedures manual

Very little time for thinking today. But, Jamaica is rarely short of a few moments worth noting.

The golf camp is on for a week and its organizers want to give awards to the participating children. That’s the easy part. The coaches have come up with categories of activity to grade, and the kids will play tournaments on the last day.

So, yesterday, someone went to check a local sports store for possible awards–trophies, medals, and certificates. They got some pricing and arranged some tentative deals. Today, they went to place the orders. Oh, boy! They came back at midday to report on progress. Oh, dear. Oh, dear.

Well, the medals were only for display and would have to be ordered, taking two weeks to complete. Nah! The trophies could be available for a 9 piece deal. Well, we have 10 kids. I asked our reporters about the 10th. Only a deal on 9. I’m on the fringe of these arrangements, and happily pulled my cap over my eyes and slid away.

So, we have to revert to another plan. Last I heard was some items were going to be air-packed to us from Kingston.

I’ve nowhere to take this other than to the hall of fame of failed understanding in business.

Incompetence comes to mind. Am I being unkind?


You’re joking, right?

The Jamaican worker can be quite a piece of work. American friends arrived in Montego Bay at the weekend, and are staying for a week. Having discussed the distance to Kingston, it seemed that we wouldn’t meet. But chance took me to MoBay for the week, and we are staying just 5 kilometers apart.

I agreed to meet them today around their breakfast time. I went to the Iberostar, as agreed around 8:30. I’ve never been there before and was struck by the tight security. The guard told me that visitors were not normally allowed before 9am. That’s a first, for me. Anyway, after he’d called the room and got clearance for me to enter, I headed to their part of the large complex. A lady outside the entrance checked my name and told me to go to the lobby and wait for my friends. They arrived and we greeted each other. It’s their first time here and have come in a group of 10. They took me to the restaurant, where they were due to meet the rest of their party.

I talked to them about Jamaican food and explained items we saw on display. They were not sure about boiled green bananas, did not know callaloo (though, it’s close to collard greens). I showed them bammy and we talked about eating fish. I got some jack fruit and showed them how to eat it. They sampled a good range of things and I suggested things to look out for. I suggested that they come with me to see the resort where I was staying and look at some golf courses, as the men in the group wanted a chance to try them. So, we got ready to leave and headed back to the lobby.

“You left the lobby. You’re not supposed to do that,” said our lady security officer. I was startled and asked her how I was supposed to know that. Clearly, the guests did not know it, either. She tried to tell me that I should have asked. My gasket just popped out of the engine. I didn’t have much patience for this backward logic and just dished some sense on this lady. I could understand the concerns: the hotel is all-inclusive and outsiders should not get free benefits available to guests. But, that’s easy to solve if the staff just monitor the one thing that guests should have, namely, a wrist band, and anyone not wearing one needs to get one as a regular guest or holder of a day pass. It’s pretty simple. Someone else had had a similar experience and was still chuntering on the sidewalk as I decided to say “Hasta la proxima”.

We headed to my place, where security is tight and whatever amenities guest enjoy, their guests can enjoy, too. The set ups are not really the same, but there are easy ways to make matters easy with some simple communication.

I really did not have the energy to do what I should have, which was to have a word with whoever manages or supervises the security or general aspects of the hotel.

So often, we have people in front line positions who give nothing but grief to customers/visitors just because of some sloppy thought processes.

IMG_1421.JPGWhen it’s just at the corner store it’s annoying. When it’s in the heart of our tourist sector, we are doomed.

Swing through, don’t try to hit the ball

This week, I find myself with a group of kids who are attending a golf clinic on the north coast. I had no idea I would be doing that 36 hours ago, but such is life. It’s no great hardship, as few things please me more than seeing youngsters make headway with a sport. Golf is simple in principle, yet so hard in practice, and some people do not have either the patience or concentration to master the simple application of swing to ball, and walk away frustrated that hitting an object that is not moving can be so difficult.

My young daughter got talked into participating, with the tempting prospect of hanging around a nice beach resort while other kids were having lessons. I explained to her that the cost of the lessons were already included in the accommodation, so she may as well join in and see how things go. The kids are having about 6 hours of instruction and playing; a long time for the younger ones (8 year olds), most of whom have not played before or very little. But, golf can be very rewarding when everything about the swing is right and the ball zings off the club towards its intended target. But, as Rory McIlroy has to admit, even the best golfers get rewards from swings that are all wrong. Better to be lucky than good, as the Irish know.

Well, after that little piece of chicanery, I thought it best to let her have at it and see how things went later. I took off to play a round early with some friends who live close to where we are staying. I have never played White Witch before, but had heard it was nice and challenging. Anyway, I was game for a try, whatever the outcome. I don’t usually use a caddy, but they tend to be included in the package on the north coast, along with a cart. White Witch is long and very undulating, and in common with the north coast, wind can be a big factor. My caddy was about 7 months pregnant. Did I need the prospect of a premature birth to complicate my round? I sake her to alert me early if she felt any sudden cramping.

My clinical duties today were to make sure the kids woke at 6:45 to have breakfast as 7:30. I was heading out by 7:25, so I did my deed and skidaddled.

My friend and his wife had played the course before, but some years ago. We were ready for adventure, but could not be anything but awestruck by the view from the driving range. Jamaica really needs to sell its golf courses better.

We played a decent round, and I invited my friends back for lunch. What lunch? Well, the hungry belly pickney nyam off di food. Hard work in the sun had boosted appetites. Embarrassed, I suggested that my friends come over later or another day. I grabbed a left over hamburger for supper and nuked that for my lunch. I then went to see how the clinic was going.

I could see groups of children and carts. As I got closer, I heard some laughter. That’s always a good sign with kids. They were either having a good time or someone was making them think they were having a good time. I caught up with my daughter’s group and walked along with them. Two younger boys were with her, and they looked wilted. Often, for sports camps, the younger ones just do a half day: their energy and concentration is not usually strong enough. But, they kept going for about another couple of hours. I also saw the group of older or more experienced golfers. All seemed to be trying and succeeding with new techniques and enjoying their little games of golf.

At the end of the session, the director, an English professional, asked how things had gone and if newcomers had enjoyed it. Up went a big brown thumb that was attached to my daughter’s hand. What! “I don’t usually enjoy things I don’t want to do,” chirped she. Knock me down with a feather. If I wasn’t a coach or player, I’d be salivating about how Jamaica had found its new female golf star, given the adulation she was getting. Well, her strong swimmer’s shoulders and legs were giving her a good start.

Every journey begins with a single step, and you never know to what a little exposure will lead.

The kids have no access to electronic devices most of the day. Hide and seek was played at lunch time. I hear yells of “Sardines”. I guess they are coping. Let’s see how they blend as the week goes.

Parodies lost? What Jamaica’s ass-soles may tell us

I was looking around Jamaica for proxies of our economic well being.

It occurred to me that the number of donkeys seen in use could be a good proxy of the activities of the rural sector. The country is more country than town, and living off the land is still critical. More donkeys means that farmers are doing well and needing to get goods to market in a timely manner, but not resorting to costly motorized transport. A donkey eats almost anything fibrous, of which a farm working well will have plenty, so fuel is less of an issue.IMG_1332.JPG Let’s call this the ‘ass’ principle.

I also wanted to get some idea of how poverty was striking people. So, I thought the number of people walking without shoes would be a reasonable proxy. IMG_1333.JPGNow, I don’t mean barefoot of the beachy, chic style, with French-Polish, but those hardened, scaly peds, which could be mistaken for hooves. Even though bare feet in hot weather can be very cooling and is liberating, I’m taking the view that for the purposes of most modern life, so cladding would be good. Let’s call this proxy the ‘sole principle’.

Based on the number of each seen, I will construct an ass-soles index, a simple ratio of one to the other. Given that there are many more people than donkeys, I expect the ratio to be less than one. I’m not clear what a reasonable figure will be, but I will start compiling my data to see how the ass-soles compare. I think the index for Kingston will be much lower than for rural areas: fewer agricultural activities, though one sees asses all over the place; more soles, because it’s the capital and people have flocked there to save their skins, lose their souls, and ended up footloose and shoeless.

I may need public help to get national coverage, so would be glad of any offers to see how the ass-soles in Jamaica have been performing.

Call us heathens, but don’t mention our citizenship, please.

Let me plead the Fifth, as Americans would say. My mind is in turmoil. Certain things always disturb me in a democracy. One of them is drawing into play religious views and beliefs into government activity. In a theocracy, I’d have no reason to be concerned as that bond is at the core of the state’s existence. But, in a parliamentary democracy?

The ongoing Damion Crawford saga has some way to go. But each day brings a new twist.

Whatever others may feel, I think it more than disrespectful for said minister to write:

‘All of a sudden everybody a atheist and agnostic and undecided and non believer unuh need fi rahtid stop it… that a nuh Jamaica.’

Our Constitution makes no mention of religious beliefs being a condition for being a Jamaican, nor is it a condition for entry to the country.

So, why bring this into view?

I don’t know the answer, but I look to those Jamaicans who have become un-Jamaican in one glib statement.

Should we care that these are the expressed personal views of a government minister? We should, to the extent that they were aired in a very public space, on social media. He then refuses to explain himself.

What did Alice say?

IMG_1330.PNGCuriouser and curiouser.

Madness in the air. Madness everywhere. Jamaican Whackos and Wakka.

It’s been said so often, but can be said again. Jamaica defines insanity. Why? An inmate is allegedly beaten to death in a lock-up by another inmate in Montego Bay. So, what do the police do? They put said accused inmate into the same lock-up. Result? Said inmate is also allegedly beaten by other inmates. Read the story. The Minister of National Security has called for an audit of the island’s lock-ups. He needs to have the force undergo evaluations for their mental faculties.

A Minister of State has over recent days apparently been ranting on social media about Jamaica not being pleasing to God. It’s public space, but does decorum or other features of being an elected official place an onus on said minister and his like to behave in a certain manner? My basic feeling is that given that all such utterances are on public record, should these be what the public, electorate, or rest of the world have as their image of an elected official. Clearly, Damion Crawford has become uncomfortable in his elected skin: he has already announced he will not be seeking re-election. Draw your own conclusions from a small sample from the past 24 hours.IMG_1328.PNG

The screen shot above of the account purports to be the same as the true account of the Minister, so the possible out that the account has been hacked may not fly. But, let’s be generous and see if the Minister distances himself from these online remarks, the latest of which seem in keeping with reported remarks made recently in Canada. Rock on, Tommy!

I will leave under consideration which God he may have in mind, given that he purports to be a Rasta, or maybe he just wears dreadlocks.


Eat what we grow? Have to love ourselves, first

I wrote yesterday about how a chance encounter in the afternoon put into perspective a substantial economic campaign that Jamaica’s manufacturers have been running, urging us to buy Jamaica and build Jamaica (BJBJ). My thoughts were incomplete, however. Well, not strictly my thoughts but the Internet’s recording of them. My last draft had to been saved. So, let me finish.

The campaign mentioned has a cousin in the agriculture sector, to grow what we eat and eat what we grow.IMG_1321.JPGIt’s a logical complement to the BJBJ campaign, and should suggest that we use local inputs at least in our food products. Now, the sad truth is that we cannot and do not grow what we eat and eat what we grow.

That’s clear from our food import bill, even though a big part of that is due to our tourist sector and hotels buying foods from abroad to feed foreigners and Jamaicans, whom they think won’t like a standard diet of Jamaican fare.

I’ve never seen any research to validate this bias against feeding visitors local food, and if our hoteliers think it’s really what visitors want, why don’t the French just flood their hotels with, say, Chinese or Lebanese fare? Part of the answer to that is the presence of a highly diverse market for prepared food throughout the country, or at least in major centres. But, another part is the notion of self-worth. What self-respecting French person would want to submerge the nation’s culinary offerings just to satisfy a bunch of foreign visitors? Sacre bleu!

So, we are limited by the fact that we’ve not developed enough offerings of foreign food that visitors can find amongst our national dishes. Kingston has a lot, compared to the rest of the country, but they are few in the great scheme of things. Also, foreign tourists are not steered towards the capital. In fact, the opposite tends to be the case, with visitors urged to stay put in their hotel complex, especially if it’s all-inclusive.

I had a reader request my view last week about venturing out from his north coast all-inclusive lodging to play golf, having been warned that tourists may be the target of bandits or thieves on lonely stretches of the courses. Enlarge that idea to venturing out into the main part of the country and you get another insight into a form of self-loathing that persists. I told the prospective visitor to go and play golf, and if unsure to work with the course management to ensure he did not venture out all alone. Caddies are a part of the standard package at the north coast courses, anyway. I gave my view that they were very professional and trustworthy. After all, that’s their livelihood at risk.

But part of this promoting our own products is simple pride in it. Do we have that? Those who decry our familiar dishes as ‘slave food’ have missed more than the point. They misread the plot. Some have seen that presentation goes a long way. In the same way as people decry our poor manufactured goods and their packaging, how food looks makes a big difference. Some chefs and restaurants have realized this, such as Brian Lumley, who puts Jamaican food on a plate and makes it artistic and delicious.IMG_1322.JPGHis restaurant, 689, is now famous for things like oxtail lasagne and chicken and ackee spring rolls.

But, that’s not to say that the basic presentations as in any little restaurant is poor. These places, and we know they’re everywhere, thrive for the simple reason that for years they have kicked out bad food and just give great meals and affordable. We know about the Gloria’s in Port Royal, but we also know all the little ‘Miss V’ and her boiled crabs or corn soup. Or all the jerk pits and pan chicken sellers. I visited the Scotchies in Montego Bay one Saturday afternoon and was pleased to see the place packed with tourists who’d been ‘dragged’ there by a Coaster van driver. I suspect it was his standard thing, whether he got a free meal for the business or not. I couldn’t help but listen to the appreciative murmuring and “Why can’t we get this at our hotel?” comments.

Now, the food industry is complex and all the desires to use locally sourced items is a mixed bag. Ideally, our production chain would be like a farm-to-table set like Eits restaurant near Newcastle, up the Blue Mountains, in St. Andrew. But, the chain is broken, and fixing the links is a work to be done. So, our local dishes often use imported ingredients, but the finished goods are all Jamaican.

We have some local agricultural goods that have nearly all been exported, for instance, our Blue Mountain coffee. Thank you, Japan. We have local products that can’t meet our demands, such as bananas and plantains for making chips. St. Mary’s Chips have been open about how they use inputs from Dominican Republic to supplement. We may also have quality or health issues in some instances. But, that’s the food industry.

The question is whether we are all committed to a direction and work to get there. I’m not convinced simply because I see so much counter punching against ourselves.

It’s nonsense to bar imports. It’s also nonsensical to limit production to only local products. But, where is our preference? Do local producers feel included or excluded? Have they lived up to the billing? I heard complaints from hotels when I came back last year that local producers were unreliable. Likewise, producers complained about payment problems with local hoteliers. But, how were the farmers being helped to get over their problems?

I know the situation has evolved over the years, but I know the English supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s, have corporate policies that promote local produce and suppliers, with a series of direct help initiatives. Do we try to emulate those sorts of practices?

Most things that work are based on their credibility. Talk all you want about supporting the local economy. But, do things that make that talk believeable.

Boom and a pack of Shirley

I was having a tough time coming up with a topic today. I had wondered about the crazy stunt by an artiste named Ikon of an attempted suicide by climbing a radio antenna and threatening to jump unless his song was played on air. This could have been in bad taste, given the actual suicide of one of the greatest comedians the day before. But, I suspect Ikon was only thinking about how iconic he could be. Selfish. Whoever hadn’t heard of him before at least knew his name. The song? Can’t say that I’m bothered to look for it.

That’s the sort of half-baked attempt attention-grabbing that often goes on, though usually without putting a lot of innocent people under stress or wondering if they would have someone’s fate in their hands.

Most people try to just get on with life and make the best of bad situations.

I then went to the supermarket. I love to watch people. It was early afternoon and a few people were grabbing what looked like afternoon snacks. In Jamaica, that’s often a soda and some chips (banana or plantain). I then say a man with a bottle of ‘Boom’ energy drink and a pack of ‘Shirley’ sweet biscuits.

Boom energy drink: product of Jamaica
Shirley biscuits: product of Jamaica

Both are local products. As were the other item I’d noted being bought.

I asked him if that was his lunch. He explained that it was to get him through the afternoon, including when he got home to watch CNN News. I wondered if the depressing content of CNN broadcasts needed offsetting with the sugar boost. He didn’t seem offended by my curiosity, which is good.

At the back of my mind were two things. First, how we get by out of home when we need nutrition. I’d read an article last night about good things to eat to get through a round of golf–usually, about four hours, and often in full heat. Boiled eggs, peanut butter and jelly, fruit, were all high on the list. I’d had a bus bans, plus eggs with toast at about 6am, before heading out to play. It seemed to hold me well. I had to hit a peanut butter and banana sandwich, then some pasta later, once I’d gotten home again and the energy drain was kicking in. Chips and soda were far from my mind.

Second, was the bubbling debate about the ‘buy Jamaica, build Jamaica‘ campaign, run by the Jamaica Manufacturers Association JMA).

This campaign has good intentions and can draw energy from the fact that Jamaicans are good patriots, even though they love to flaunt things bought abroad. Nevertheless, many Jamaicans see foreign goods as also more expensive, and not necessarily to their tastes. Look at tinned processed cheese, which would bomb almost anywhere else.

But, are we really being targeted as consumers? People may just respond to price, and Jamaican is likely to be cheaper. They may also just be responding to need and familiarity. Our packaging often comes in for much criticism, and the look of things affects many people’s choices. So, we ought to see a push to let people know that the contents are the best or near the best.

I steer away from imports, simply because I see few things that I MUST have that are not local. I don’t have a choice with certain things, such as gasoline or cars. But, I do with a lot of foods. It’s my contribution to reducing our food import bill and also pressure on the exchange rate.

But, others are not discerning or just don’t care, or just don’t trust Jamaican goods, etc. Foreign,even from developed countries, is no guarantee of anything positive, as China has found with scares over imported milk products from New Zealand.

So, the JMA could do a lot more convincing and so could our consumer advocates, who could help us understand what the market is made up of and what represents value for money, local or imported.

Simply depressing: mental illness in our midst

Robin Williams, the comedy actor, was found dead in his California home yesterday. Initial reports indicate that his death is a suspected suicide. Very quickly, reports have surfaced that he was suffering from depression. Very quickly, comments have surfaced expressing sympathy for those suffering from depression. Mental illness is going to be foremost in people’s minds for a few days.

Over the past week, we in Jamaica have had mental illnesses and how we struggle to deal with them pushed into the forefront. Several days ago, a policeman was disarmed by a man described as ‘of unsound mind’. He shot two people, who were sent to hospital. The reports suggest that we had a person known to be mentally ill walking around freely. That does not suggest that such persons are dangerous, but if I know Jamaica, the general impression was that he was not going to do any harm. We don’t have a system whereby people in our midst can just be taken into medical care for mental disorders. Someone needs to make such a request, or the person has to seek to have them self admitted. Having the person admitted does not remove danger from our midst, but it allows other processes to take place.

In the middle of last week, a man was badly injured while in police custody. The police have charged two men who were in custody with the injured man with causing the injuries. One of those charged is described as ‘mentally ill‘. Again, that information suggests that we know that someone whose mental condition can be seen to be unstable, is left in the midst of other people.

In both of the Jamaican instances we have people who will be charged for harming others. Again, that observation does not go to whether they did what is alleged. The point is that in Jamaica we let people whose mental health is visibly impaired move freely. There’s nothing wrong with that either, in many instances. The society looks foolish when people lose their lives at the hands of such people.

In the case of suicides, the society and friends looks foolish and uncaring for not having been more aware of the problems someone was facing. But, as many will argue, it’s hard to force treatment on anyone. Even if the person had sought treatment, it’s hard to know what’s working and if anyone has reached the limits of their tolerance. We don’t have crisis meters that show when we are ‘overloaded’. That’s just one of the problems. Also, how does mental illness look? Screaming. Wild actions. Quietness. Moodiness. Much more. It depends.

Unlike physical diseases, we cannot see clear simples like pimples or rashes. Like many diseases, though, our medical practices do not often deal with underlying causes but seek to alleviate symptoms. Think depression and tranquilizers.

The line between mental disorders that are seen negatively and those that offer us creative brilliance is also blurred. We may see that now with a Robin Williams. But, we know of Drew Carey, Jim Carrie…

How to treat the mentally ill is no simple matter. I do not have a suggestion that is generally workable. Should they be in institutions? Should they be under supervision?IMG_1316.JPG Should they be left alone? Whose responsibility are they?

Almost every day, I drive past two women who stand or sit in much the same positions every day, not far from each other. One stands, facing a wall. Another sits on a rock and stares out to the space in front of her. Neither has ever been approached by a passer by that I’ve seen. I drive past them, too. They seem lonely. I don’t know how or why they got there. I’ve no idea who cares for them, if anyone. Unlike the young man who I also often see near the same spot, walking either naked or in a pair of torn dirty shorts, and visibly dirty, these ladies are usually dressed tidily and clean. They are features. But how do they feature? What is their future!? Maybe, we need them to be involved in a tragedy to address that.

Dynamic expression: twisting tongues and tongue twisters

If you are the parent of a teenager or preteen, you have probably gone past them singing to songs that you find hard to decipher. That’s part of growing up and living in dynamic societies. Lots of things are done by the young that challenge their elders. We can be a bunch of reactionary fogeys and come out with guff like “This is terrible…”, forgetting the strain that The Beatles or Rolling Stones or Bob Marley put on older ears and senses. But, this and other dynamic developments are occurring, in part as a result of migration and other social movement. Speech is changing. That’s evident in music but also if you are on the street or listen to certain radio stations. I just want to touch on a few examples. My daughter, who’s 10, has been making videos with her friends. One she did was a cover of ‘Fancy’ by Iggy Azalea, which sounded close to the real thing.

Iggy is white, originally from Australia, but moving to the US South in her mid-teens, and immersing herself in hip-hop culture. She raps in an American accent, and uses the expressions and style of black urban areas. Why? Well, it’s cooler and more likely to be hard to understand, so lends itself to being sort of counter cultural. It could be another form of code switching, though an unusual one.

This is but one form of cross over that’s becoming common. In Jamaica, we’ve had similar experiences, where the fringe culture of Rastafarianism, including some of its speech patterns, has captured much mainstream space and attention. Look how readily people recognize Jamaica as an ‘Irie’ place. The notion of progressing and never regressing, as in ‘Forward ever, backward never’, is another instance. So, we accentuate positive verbs and adjectives. We do not under-stand anything, we over-stand. Get it? It’s broader and more complex, though, including the replacing of many common prefixes with ‘I’. Remember Bob Marley saying “I-tinually”?

I heard this weekend how in Jamaica homophobia is capturing expressions. Best example: people go to do number 1 (urinate), but because number 2 refers to the anus, which is becoming a taboo part of the body, people talk about ‘number 3’. Weird. I spent a weekend with some friends and their teens recently and heard the children repeatedly telling their parents to ‘hold a medz‘. I know now that this means ‘chill out’.

All quite fascinating.