No long talk

It’s not time for long talk. This should not happen. During this week, in the parish if St. James, a man named Mario Deane died in police custody from injuries sustained after his arrest, after he is taken to hospital. You cannot feel comfortable in a country where this happens. Don’t look at the offence the man was alleged to have committed. He was under the state’s protection, but wound up dead. That is the stuff of nightmares for anyone. Investigations and likely a court case will try to establish who did what, when and how. Some people may be found guilty and sentenced. But, no one should get locked up and end up injured or dead. Period.

In the same week, a man named Frei Riley is shot and injured in an alleged confrontation with police in the Mountain View area of east Kingston. He is taken to hospital and dies from his wounds. Again, that should not happen with the regularity it does in Jamaica.

We read and hear about extra-judicial killing, and I will try to explain to my 10 year old how this can happen. Her relatively innocent mind cannot comprehend the violence that takes place in the world, and surely not when it involves so-called ‘guardians of the peace’ or crime fighters.

In both St. James and Kingston, angry residents took to the streets and protested. The scenes of fire and destruction that were associated with that are all over the newspapers.

We have a strange attitude to disadvantage in Jamaica. Some draw on religious teachings to rail against sin in our midst. I ask simply where are they and their voices of outrage? No long talk.

Walk what road you want and hope that you do not end up meeting the police in any confrontation. The odds are badly stacked against you. You shouldn’t have to fear for your life in such circumstances. No long talk.

We have just cause to be concerned, but do we have anyone who will listens and stands up for this cause? No long talk.

I go back to the PM’s speech this Independence week and her call for accountability and responsibility. No long talk. Make it work, work, work.

Stop the world, I want to get off: Jamaica better love China, because it loves us all.

Jamaica got another reminder this week of how the modern world works. We saw the unwrapping of a spanking new highway, linking the north and south of the island, which had been completed by Chinese investment. We have lots of signs of that in the island, especially on roads and soon we will have more if the whispered contract to develop a logistics hub goes ahead as whispered. We won’t get into the political spinning of “gifting”. We know free lunches are only on February 30th.

That is what China has been doing across the world for a good few years now. China’s population and land mass are so large that they scare the bejeebers out of most counties. It’s phenomenonal pace of economic growth, averaging 10 percent a year for the past three decades, has allowed it to do that. It has the world’s largest balance of foreign exchange reserves and also the world’s biggest appetite for materials to build its economy. Hence, it has funded investment in many places where it needs minerals, especially in Africa. Jamaica has some of those valuable minerals too, but China has put its footprint down differently here, choosing to help develop infrastructure. Now, I’m not going to discuss the geo-political rationale for what China is doing here. My basic point is different. People in Jamaica may feel swamped by things Chinese, but pop another spoonful of Maalox.

China is the world’s new investment kid on the block. We get sort of frothy at the mouth in Jamaica about the Chinese presence because we are very small and they are very large. So, we get ‘small man syndrome’ or the ‘Napoleon complex’. To boot, we know we are small and it’s usually called upon as we beat the living daylights out of some opponent. “We likkle but we tallwah!”

But, our history of Chinese involvement in our lives is a bit different. Chinese indentured labour was brought here and in a short time after they were not indentured, the Chinese Jamaicans started to run the Jamaican economy, with stores, initially, but then in many other areas, especially food. That influence is still huge, though blurred by corporate structures and names that do not appear eminently Chinese, such as Juici Beef or Tastee. What, they’re not…?

But, we are not even a blip on the Chinese investment radar screen. In 2013, Chinese investment in US companies doubled, to US$14 billion. This spree was driven by large-scale acquisitions in food, energy and real estate, and was done mostly by private companies, rather than state enterprises, as in the past. It’s no real wonder that when our new highway was opened by the PM this week, we could be mistaken for thinking the road was in Shanghai, for all the red dresses, Chinese writing, and serious absence of black, gold and green. Independence gift? Tek weh yuself! But, that’s how the world is bring repositioned.

In addition, we know that Chinese bond holders prop up the enormous debt of the USA, the size of which is so many times that of most economies.

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Though, the graphic is out of date, it tells a clear story. The world is China’s playground, and we and our region are far from being its main interest, which remains much closer to home, in Asia and Australasia. So, hold on to your knickers.

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Don’t mess with dissing China, learn to embrace it. Uncle Sam can talk all he wants about abuses of human rights spearheaded from Beijing. We hear cha-Ching–and that’s not meant to be a racist alliteration. If the US or others want a place in our hearts, do more than flood the airwaves with awful sitcoms and cardboard food. Put leather on the ground and sweat on your shirt, and come dig up some dirt. Why does Puerto Rico look like it does? That island is slightly smaller than Jamaica, and has a slightly larger population. But, its GDP is about 10 times that of Jamaica’s, and per capita is about seven times ours. Just check that flag.

IMG_1290.JPG Another accident of nature?

Well, we are independent, so let’s get on with what that’s given us. On three, “Eternal father…”

Is too much weight on the barbell?

A sad reality for countries like Jamaica in this current juncture is that economic progress seems unlikely to hold much tangible benefit for most people. Unemployment is highish, at about 14 percent, and much higher for young people–about 35-40 percent. The economy has been stagnant officially for decades. In reality, growth has been happening, but under- or unreported. We all live off the underground economy, and in a stagnant economy, it represents good value for money. We may despise some aspects, like windscreen washer boys, but give us that car boot full of sugar loaf pineapples, as we drive on our way. Most done confine crime, but the petty kind, say involving marihuana, we tolerate. Gun crimes and trading hard drugs, we abhor and hope don’t touch us.

Official data show rising poverty, and that may be taken as a reasonable truth, though how low some people have fallen is hard to gauge. Remittances and illegal activity have bolstered many households.

Most of the world has not seen fast growth for years and Jamaica lives off the coat tails of industrial countries, like the USA, Canada and the UK. They have little prospect of fast growth in coming years, as they come out of recession like worms breaking ground. So, unless Jamaica becomes a full-fledged satellite of China, it’s stuck in this slower growing economic space. So, forget about growth trickling down or pulling anyone up by their bootstraps.

Jamaica has been saved from a total social meltdown by a few things. Significant among them has been emigration. That our labour has been able to head overseas and find work, often at much better wages than at home, has been an important safety valve. Whether we helped build the Panama Canal, or helped the British public services and factories to overcome their labour shortages, or take care of American children, or find favour in neighboring Caribbean countries, abroad has been a welcome place for Jamaicans.

Crime is another, in particular, through its awful coexistence with politics. It was amusing to read yesterday a report about the Opposition JLP spokesman on national security claiming that politicians were not longer responsible for crime. It’s worth parsing the few words and thinking about what it claims and implies. What struck me was the notion that, while in general Jamaican politicians do not get involved with criminal violence, some in particular did and do still. It’s also the case that the criminals want shot of the politicos, as they are a financial drain. That tells you something about the scale of political corruption. But, it also suggests that criminals can survive quite happily without political favour. That’s bad news because they have become self-reliant and perhaps more dangerous for that. Like a laboratory experiment that gets out into the general population, we all now have to live with the creature given life by politicians that now feeds on us all with no regard to its creator.

Those two factors tell you a lot about how this country has been run, not just post-independence. People have long used escape to survive. Those who could, have used education or skills to help lever that exit on a permanent basis. They and others exit on a temporary or repeated basis.

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Our record as criminals tends to compromise our desire to travel. Even our neighbours shun us or treat us with undue suspicion, as we’ve seen in some notable recent cases. You only need to come off a flight from Jamaica to sample this. If you’re law-abiding, it’s a galling experience. Yet, the world doesn’t know that a few bad apples have spoiled the barrel. That will take decades to overcome, and the world can embrace Usain Bolt and stigmatize every ‘Delroy McDonald’.

Jamaican political leaders do not have a good record of driving the country well. Most people have given up on them: look at the steady decline in voter turnout in national elections. So, what will people do? Revolution does not seem to be the preferred option. Jamaicans make much vocal protest, but have little stomach for putting bodies in the line for causes. It’s also not a tradition in the region, which has been extraordinary for decades of peaceful electoral change. Politicians have lived off this, well. But, for how much longer?

If truth be told.

Let’s start the new year of independent living in the manner we wish to proceed. It’s always interesting to consider what Jamaicans consider to be honesty. I was brought up to understand that it was an absolute. But, I find in Jamaica that it’s relative. (Before going too far, I know that honesty when it comes to things that affect the family is definitely relative, relatively speaking.)

How so? Well, for many Jamaicans, life’s path is about who you know. So, with truth and honesty. It’s also the case that honesty is a matter of who may be embarrassed by it. “You can’t say that. Don’t you know who’s…?” That goes hand-in-hand with the well-tried “Do you know who you’re talking to?” bombast that stands in the face of reasoned explanation.

Maybe, I’m wrong, but I was faced with some of this relative honesty first thing today. One of our main papers has an occasional regional section. I was surprised, therefore, to read an article that posed important national questions about the administration of our junior athletics programme. Was it a bit of editorial subterfuge? Good piece, but let us not make too many waves. Read the piece and think. The challenge will be whether this becomes another ‘nine-day wonder’. As we don’t do follow-up well, who will pursue these matters? Our media houses have a big role to play.

We will get more chances in coming months to see how truly honest we can be. The Minister of National Security introduced a new arrangement to deal with organized crime and corruption. Well, if ever something was clear then the fact that no high-level officials or politicians ever get cited in some instances would suggest that Jamaican people are so awfully honest that anti-corruption measures are a waste of time. Sorry, did you just choke on a peanut? Well, we have an off- island location to take confidential information, dialing 1-800-CORRUPT. We should watch calls flood in like people dashing to drive toll-free on the new Mount Rosser bypass.

On that latter topic, I listened to the Minister answer questions about the new structure. He sounded confident. He made reassuring statements, including a few that included red flag terms such as ‘trust me’, ‘believe me’, or other political sidesteps. The presenter thanked the Minister for his concern but asked him to answer the question. This is not typical journalism in Jamaica. The Press don’t press.

That approach has to change. Thanks to developments like social media, we can open other avenues of enquiry. They may not be well regarded worldwide, but can’t be ignored. News flows at light speed on the Internet and cannot easily be ignored. Just last week, our Ministry of Health (MoH) refused to offer comments on the spreading Ebola virus during a radio broadcast, claiming the media were spreading panic. That was immediate news and criticism flowed. Many felt ignorance was more likely to cause panic. Now, damage control had to be called upon. Honesty? It’s on hold. Then, this week, the MoH got out its statement, including how it wants to work with the media. Their spokeswoman made an appearance and said a few words. What did they fear a few days ago? Search me.

But, let’s give the various players a chance. They may be really stubborn and want to always wait for a crisis to arrive to see the need for openness, frankness and honesty. I hope not.

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The PM urged the nation in her Independence message thus, “We have to take responsibility and be accountable for our actions.” I recall the struggle to get answers some months ago about a little official travel. But, let’s try to be nice and forward-looking, and believe that this sentiment is plastered high and bright for all to see. I read in this morning’s paper a story of a man beaten to a pulp while in police custody. Those words above seem to want some serious reflection.

How can we not be mental slaves? 52 years and counting

On this auspicious day in Jamaican history, we call on the Auspices to give us inspiration. Strange though it may seem, today’s Daily Observer editorial grabbed some of my morning walk thoughts, so read their take on our Independence, including our schizoid nature, which had been running through my head.

That tendency towards schizophrenia is a national condition. I like the Wikipedia definition: mental disorder often characterized by abnormal social behavior and failure to recognize what is real. Common symptoms include false beliefs, unclear or confused thinking, auditory hallucinations, reduced social engagement and emotional expression, and inactivity.

With that framework in mind, let me reconfigure my thoughts. Jamaicans are not just schizoid, but also almost like the perfect economist: they are always looking from one hand to the other hand. We are not quite the perfect blend that was the brilliant economist, John Nash, but give us time:

Give a Jamaican a seemingly good situation and within moments he or she is likely to start seeing the bad side. Failing that, he or she is likely to start the process of spoiling. Truth is, though, we often have good reason for this skepticism. Look at a major event yesterday.

Yesterday, a long-awaited 19 km stretch of road was opened, officially, between Linstead and Moneague, by-passing a notorious potential hilly bottleneck at Mount Rosser, where heavy trucks slow down travel or block the road with accidents.

Being who we are, pomp and ceremony were part of the events. Word soon came out that a government MP for the area had been ‘sent away’ by the PM for inappropriate dress (jeans and polo shirt, we heard). Whooiiii! We get a chance to laud the road for a few minutes, then get on with the business of lambasting our politicians–one of our favourite sports.

Why the pomp? Isn’t the country nearly broke? What foolishness about a dress code for such an event. (The media house who started that story later retracted it…more lambasting due about our shoddy media standards.)

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If our flag had red in it, I would understand…

The PM–a consummate politician–tried to make much of the moment.20140806-082302-30182029.jpgShe talked about the toll-free month of use being an Independence gift to the people. What? Aren’t we in hock to the Chinese Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC)? I read that we will be paying cash and giving 1200 acres of land adjacent to the by-pass to CHEC. As befits Jamaica, the details of the financial arrangement come clearer at the end of the process: press reports indicate the full route, which has two more sections to be built by 2016, will cost US$730 million, but CHEC will reimburse Jamaica for US$120 million paid to the previous French developers who couldn’t figure our how to stop the road sinking….What gift? When the tolls kick in next month, the gift will be a distant memory for those who hadn’t driven till then. What nonsense! It’s deferred payment. But, on the one hand, our politicians are quick to “feel” the people’s pain, but also quick to take credit for any gains. It won’t be lost on Jamaicans that the event’s supporting cast was dressed like Chinese ladies IN RED, NOT IN JAMAICAN COLOURS. Gift? Our Indepenence. Dress code? Don’t make my blood boil.

We hear the PM urging investors to take advantage of the opportunities the new road presents. We hear the people of Faith’s Pen may also get relocated to a rest stop so that the loss of traffic through Mount Rosser won’t cripple their economic outlook.

So, while some will try to get us to see the upsides of our Indpendnce, it’s not hard to believe that we’ve merely traded the slave manacles for colonial servitude for another form of economic bondage. I think I tend to be more positive in face of certain truths than many Jamaicans. But, I’m also not a blithering idiot. Yes, we will roll out renditions of songs celebrating our nationhood.

But, we have plenty of reasons to think like that archetypical economist. So much, yet so little. We are also clearly in our strait jackets, banging our heads against walls, and crying “Nurse!”

Happy Independence!

Emancipendence time

A fellow (female) blogger stole my sentiment this morning. This period between Emancipation Day (August 1) and Independence Day (August 6) is awkward. People really don’t want to slide from one holiday to another with a few days’ break; this time, the first holiday was on a Friday. Most people who can think want to straddle that to the next holiday on Wednesday, especially as schools are closed and many kids may be out with grandma or at camp. It’s good adult peace time.

But, I’m not convinced the media struggle at this time, as Jamaica is so full of foolishness that the slow summer months seem like the rest of the year.

It’s beyond fiction that a ‘man of unsound mind’ can disarm a police officer and then go in a shooting spree in the busiest part of the country. But, in Jamaica that’s what we had at the weekend. Only to find out that the gun was in a ‘non-standard’ holster. Was the budget busted so the officer had to go to a flea market for a replacement? Or, as a commentator said, the officer wanted to have a ‘cowboy’ holster? But, in the Jamaican way of ‘ah so we dweet’, where we do what we want, we should be grateful that the gun had real bullets. Though, maybe, a set of blanks would have helped.

I rarely read what passes for court reporting, but now and again a story catches my eye. Yesterday, I read of a man choking a woman to steal her cell phone. In his defence, the man said he just “took it from her”. The judge had little time for this nonsense and slapped the choker-non thief with six months in jail. Was that worse, though, than the man who fought a woman though her car window to steal a chain, then hide it between his toes in his shoe?

If I believe what I read and hear, then the world health authorities are getting to terror levels in their concerns about the Ebola virus. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced in recent days that the disease ‘is out of control’. But, in Jamaica, where all is cool and Irie, our Ministry of Health is going the extra step…not. They noted, proudly, that they are monitoring the WHO website. Are you serious? Better than playing Candy Crush, I guess. I hear the sound of deep snoring from behind the minister’s door…But, Jamaica has at least mastered the lingo of international boo-ha-ocracy: We are not yet in ‘the category of at risk countries’, but “we continue to ensure that our systems are strengthened so that we can have an effective response if the need arises”. Our “surveillance system has already been heightened”, we will be “sensitizing staff” and “monitoring of the situation.” Well, blah me down!

The spokeswoman said “public education is also an important feature of the Ministry’s strategy and stressed that there has been no change in the position of the Ministry as it relates to facilitating interviews and providing information through the media about any health related matter. As part of our communication plan, we will continue to partner with the media through interviews and other methods of disseminating information so that the public is kept informed and understand their part of the responsibility to deal with these types of diseases.” Hold on! Is this the same ministry that refused to give RJR interviews last week on this topic? Can’t be, right. 20140805-071203-25923807.jpgThe spokeswoman, Dr. Marion Bullock DuCasse is entitled Director, Emergency, Disaster Management and Special Services. Is that ‘DEADMESS’ in acronym speak?

Finally, we heard that the Minister of National Security–fittingly, at this time, Mr. Bunting–will be giving more beef to the fight against corruption by merging two agencies and having them called MOCA (the same acronym as one of the old agencies, which some find a bit confusing). I’ll give MOCA a bly for at least putting itself into the world of miner communication with a vengeance. It took to Twitter and Facebook to try to explain the new moves, thinking new followers, and being all social media-friendly.

Maybe, someone should look over the partition and tell those security officers who can be seen bundling a girl in a wheel chair into a police vehicle that evenhandedness and respect for citizens starts with understanding that we are all now watching carefully every move. Maybe, MOCA can do some outreach and explain how the modern world works. Don’t let the rest if JCF make mockery of crime fighting. In fact, fight less and deal with crime more.

Meantime, I’m going to take a slice of that wonderful new bun made by Morhers, specially for Independence.

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Presumably, I assume: some issues about information deficit

The value of information is not in what is transmitted, but in what is received. My wife said she sent me an email with a phone number in it. I said I never saw it. Why not give it to me now that you’re standing next to me? I asked. Eureka moment. Transmitted and received well.

I don’t know how I can prove the point I want to make, but let me start the argument. Jamaica may not be very different from many places, but we can’t see enough of all of life’s parts to know how alike we are in some basic ways. I think that Jamaica suffers from an information deficit. We have agencies that send out information, but what we see suggests that, at best this is only partially received.

The country is suffering a drought. How do I know that? I have an idea from the fact that I had not seen rain for weeks, during a time of the year when rainfall is supposed to be more likely. I see the ground around where I live and in areas to which I travel, and it looks dry and hard. Plants look brown, instead of green; many are dying instead of thriving. During afternoons, when the heat rises, the clouds form but no rain comes as one would expect at this time of year. I read press reports and hear news broadcasts, which tell me of the dire national situation of water shortage. I heard that the responsible minister made statements to the nation, telling us that this drought is real. “Fellow Jamaicans, this is a challenge, and it is one that is made worse by higher temperatures and windy conditions, that provide the perfect combination for bush fires, which, given the present water shortage, will be difficult to control and extinguish,” Ministers Pickersgill is reported as saying.

I highlighted the section on fires for a simple reason. I feel that I have been well-informed about this dangerous national situation, and try in my own limited way to heed it. But, for all the efforts to inform, have others absorbed this information, that we think is flying out there freely? My presumption is that most of the country tries to stay well-informed. But, I do not know if this is true.

Many so-called ‘educated’ people are quick to disparage part of society as ‘ignorant’ and ‘ill-informed’. Yet, some of that criticising group is only too glad to say things like “This is why I don’t watch local news.” Now, let me slow down. If the intelligentsia think they can survive in the country by disconnecting from local news reporting, why can we be confident that the ‘ignorant’ will bother? Is it that the ‘ignorant’ cannot think clearly through the weaknesses of local reporting to see the truths that are not reported? Is it that the facts are so obvious that local sources need not be consulted? Simply put, there’s a presumption that local news is not worth wasting time. The intelligentsia, of course, want their heads filled with ‘international’ news–it puts them in a seemingly superior position to be able to pontificate about the perils facing the world in places far and wide, and by groups with names that are tongue-twisting: “Hezbollah…Nagorno-Karabakh…Herzegovina…Boko Haram…Nethanyahu…”.

So, when ministers and the Jamaica Information Service issue statements and bulletins, to whom are they speaking? I assume that the farmers tilling yam hills and tending cows and hoeing weeds from between scallion try to have an ear to what is going on outside their small holdings. But, that’s a view I hold because I want to be informed. I grew up listening to the BBC shipping forecasts, thinking that everyone knew about ‘Dogger…Cromarty…Viking…’, etc. I tend to believe it less when I listen to what goes on as normal business in the agricultural sector. I recall stories earlier this year of peanuts being grown but no one knowing who wanted to buy: supply and demand could not meet. Peanuts rotted. Farmers face destitution. Do we have a peanut marketing board to bring the two sides together? Not exactly, but we have the Rural Agricultural Development Authority, which has a marketing division. Whatever they are supposed to be doing, the peanut farmers are at a loss.

But, if rural people are so ill-informed about their basic bread and butter such as where markets are, why should they know about anything else? Which brings me back to the fires.

Slash and burn has been a part of our rural life for centuries now. It has its rationale, but economic and environmental. It’s not unique to the tropics or to less-developed counties; it’s part of ordinary agriculture. Rural people are accustomed to it, and think they can control it. They don’t necessarily see it as problematic, including during droughts. That alone could explain why, when driving across Jamaica in recent weeks, despite the drought, we’ve seen plumes of smoke, as slash and burn continues. If we want that to change, a JIS infomercial won’t do. It needs a re shaping of economic and social life.

Now, not all bush fires are man-made. We know spontaneous combustion takes place. Maybe, that explains the fires last week in Jacks Hill, which some argue were started as flint ignition. Maybe, that explains some of the burnt banana and bamboo stands seen around southern St. Mary, including the small blaze I saw last night at about 8pm, just after rain had passed the area near the banana chips factory. But, we can’t inform nature.

We’re trying to persuade people to do things or stop doing things, but we’ve no idea how receptive are the ears to the official voices.

That issue goes far beyond our current problem with dry weather and tinderbox bush land.20140804-092536-33936456.jpg

Those of us who live in the a Internet age may find it hard to fathom that information can still move at snail’s pace. But, let’s not presume or assume too much. It may seem extreme, but I’ve met people who do not know who is Usain Bolt, or that Bob Marley is dead. To borrow from The Harder They Come: “How him cyan dead an’ nuh tell mi?”

Rhythms of tropical life

Sun rises, and cock crows.
Other birds chirp and start their daily songs.
If deep in the bush, low sounds of cattle.
Nearer to town or a highway, the sounds of the first movers.
“Pass and move, Donovan!”
The sound of leather kicked by foot, comes over a distant fence.
Noise travels, so the boys and men could be a way off.
A face appears at a window, smiling.
Pink pinafore underneath a neatly braided head.
“I forgot my key. You want coffee?”
I dive into the water and feel its surprising warmth.
Arms wind, head turns, feet kick.
Again, under the water.
The rays streak through the surface.
No sacrifice this, just a choice.
You can’t do it all, or the house will fall.
A man walks out to me, a club in hand.
I smile at Satan’s latest try to test me.
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All in the family

I’m not going to fight the general mood. It’s a long holiday weekend and a good time for a few days with family and friends. I’ve spent much of the day with people other than my family.
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I overnighted with a golfing friend and his family near Ocho Rios, and was treated to the kind of solid Jamaican breakfast that many yearn for on a Saturday, roast breadfruit, fried dumplings, ackee and salt fish, prepared by his mother. My morning was set. Off I went to play in a golf tournament.
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My friend hadn’t known about the weekend event and desperately wanted to play, so I paid his entry fee. Little really by comparison to the hospitality his mother had shown me.

After golf, I headed west towards Montego Bay to meet some friends having time with their kids. I got there just as the men’s 4×100 meters relay final was starting in Glasgow. Everyone came out of the pool to cheer on the team and see Usain Bolt do his thing. Gold medal secured, we had lunch. I was just ready for that. We then cooled out in the water with the children. The golfers got a hard time for putting that game in the way of family gatherings. My friend had played early morning, but missed family breakfast. Naughty :-). I had played while my family were abroad. But, my wife had come back last, and suggested joining us in MoBay. She would send our daughter off the camp at Moorlands, then fly up.
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I felt pressure to cancel my playing the second day of the tournament. I’d have to drive the 100 km to Ocho Rios to play. Right one, I’ve not decided but my inclining is to just enjoy the rare time of nothing else on the agenda, and have so good dinner on the terrace and look forward to a flow Sunday en famille.

Free as a bird

August 1, in Jamaica, the day will be full of wishes for betterment. Get to somewhere nicer than we are now. The political leaders who urge this will be doubted, for they make such comments too often, yet ask us to believe their latest utterances. But, some may take these words and nod in agreement. Maybe, they are partisans. Perhaps, they gained work or positions from politicians. Many will shake their heads. They look at the lives they lead. Really?

Betterment is about opportunities. Emancipation gave our ancestors chances they had seen blocked before. We grew up with those chances, though, yet some are hell-bent on denying them. Gender wrong. Skin type wrong. Accent wrong. School wrong. Home town wrong. More. The many accidents life throws our way trip or trap us. What good are exhortations?

Free to do what? Free to run from this. Free to try to fight against this. Free to turn blind eyes and deaf ears towards this. The clever ones will give reasons: “You know, we think highly of you, but…”

I met a doctor last week, who told of interview panels trying to select best candidates having their choices overturned by administors who saw ‘better’ candidates, who had less training but happened to be a whiter shade of pale. So obvious as to be offensive.

The barriers are often subtler than that.

Each year, though, we’re asked to keep hoping. For what? Why? You can try to move yourself but that may do little. I’ve tried to help others move. Leave those you touch better off than when you met them. Trying to be selfless can seem selfish to some. Blink. Move on. Keep the good in place. Push back the bad. Don’t wait for thanks.

Today, one of those gestures will take another step…onto a plane for the first time. Leaving the island for the first time. Representing the country for the first time. Emancipation.