Jamaica, the year in its contradictions

I don’t do lists, but I enjoy looking at things in random and varied ways. The year is ending and I look back, as many do. But, I’m going there based on what my memory throws up.

Jamaica is a land of fantastic contradictions. We have all nature could bestow, yet cry that we have nothing.

I’m going to try to focus on Jamaica but may drift.

Because of recent utterances, I have former Public Defender, Earl Witter, in my sight. Like the wise old owl he seems to be, Witter wooed. Whom did he woo? Mukulu. Having wooed and won, Witter was filled with woe. Why? Regrets, he’d had a few. He had to purge himself. I remember his saying in public about a process not having been sufficiently “purgative”. Well, he can disembowel himself, publicly. It’s not a pretty sight.

Tivoli is having its navel investigated again. Ironically, Witter was into that too. He took nigh on four years and delayed delays to get his report issued. The new Enquiry has already created fireworks like the gunfire that took so many lives. Lloyd D’Aguilar sees issues others only imagine. Poor, Sir David Simmons, Bajan to his core, got hit by Lloyd full bore. “Political hack!” Sir David fired back his slingshot at Lloyd the Goliath. “Get out!” Is who run things? Cheese on bread! Not Lloyd, who has no current insurance policy. Abandoned and cast away to sea.

Who put the nation in a spin? What? you mean. Chikungunya…Chik-v. “One Panadol, quick!” As fast as Bolt out of the blocks, Yardies got down to sweep like our sprinters. ‘Dutty’ was not confined, nicely, to Berry or, rudely, to Labourites. Though our health minister, Ferguson, was slow on the uptake, his leader said he’d done nothing wrong. Well, let’s differ on that. Jamaican love of ‘soon come’ affects all, despite stripe. Mrs. Simpson-Miller got down in the gutter with her shovel and glove and once in the gutter, she showed her love for “my people”. She looked at peace in the gutter, and her parliamentary colleagues know this well.

But, Panadol was scarce for many. Papaya leaf, bitter as gall, could work for some, if not all. Coconut water to wash out your heart, said Chronixx, but save some to hydrate those aching and creaky joints.

Where did this Chik-v come from? Mosquitoes? No way! America sent it in a crashed plane off Portland. It’s a plot to wipe out black people. Only JLP people were infected. Strange, that.

Ground as hard as crisp for most of the year. Dams that had no reservoir of water. People in Mona moaning at empty pipes. Out with the drought. But some had the front to buy private water and have fun and laughter at wet fetes. Wet feet. What a feat!

The rains were late, as befits Jamaica. Unfashionable, as ever. Crying shame on our public servants, who’ve planned so badly for the inevitable. Still, nature saved us, again. So much rain came later that we had floods. All our troubles seem so far away. Yesterday…

Like a Bolt out of the blue, Usain went to tilt in a kilt in Glasgow. He hadn’t run, yet, but had caused the biggest stir by being misinterpreted as dissing the event. What happened to that reporter? What was her name? What of the fame? Gone up in flames.

Jamaican men did not need him to do what we now do. We win 100 metres golds, 1st string or 2nd. Swooping to sweep, 1-2-3, our ladies made history in the 400 metres. Bolt came out to do what was expected and scorched the track in the 4×100 relay. Commonwealth record, too. Gone clear!

This was the year when those who dared speak were in the spotlight. Some thought this very un-Jamaican. The kings of chat? The politician who uttered the infamous “articulate minority” remark will have his place in history.

History is replete with people who tried to make speaking out an offence. Historic evidence is that, when they succeeded nations suffered for being silenced. I’m not going to elevate the utterer to the position of those whom history condemned, but sit in silence at your peril. You have a brain and a voice? Use them! No matter how many Bobbies we have, we do not live in a police state.

Jamaica is never dull. I can’t even find space to deal with the latest whirlwind of nothing-to-something fame. Gully Bop mashed up Sting 2014, a few days ago. But, in a flash, was dropped by his management company like a hot potato. He hadn’t even had time to fix his dentures or crash his new Benz. Choose better, your friends.

While Gully bopped then flopped, other artistes clashed on stage, then crashed. Sting is a sting. We fall for it as some cultural expression but it’s WWF Jamaica-style. That’s wrestling, and hurtful words with people who should be friends. But, so it ends.

What made me laugh the most should be saved for last.

Was it NHT trying to make fools out of many Jamaicans? Easton Douglas or Lambert Brown? Which would I choose to be a godfather? Don’t rush me. Sometimes, slippery like okra applies to things other than roads.

Was it our paying J$4 million for first class seats in a private jet for Abu Bakr to return to Trinidad? That was a hoot? Whose plane was it? Abu was such a man to say boo and frighten us? Minister Bunting went hunting for reasons to avert treason? Someone went crying all the way to the bank.

Was it politicians who got swiped because they did not know how to save money with Skype? They went roaming in the gloaming and racked up such silly bills. Silly Billies. What’s a million dollars between us? Front up and pay out of your pocket. Doing the nation’s work, with no care for cost? Get lost! That’s what I call a deficit…of intelligence.

My man of the year is Peter Phillips. The rock on which Jamaica will rebuild its economy. Test him! He passes with flying colours. Now, he stumbled when trying to hoodwink us with a little bank tax. But, the articulate minority and others called foul and he recanted. We did not budge. He had to do better budgetting. Peter, a one time Rasta, is faring well with the IMF. It’s no longer Manley’s fault. Everything Irie, my friend–the new IMF.

We’re getting growth but the dollar is making us holler. It’s ending 2014 around 113; it’s on its bended knee. Let us, therefore, pray for its health and more strength in 2015.

Jamaica! Jamaica! Jamaica, land we love.


2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 13,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

The arrogant Jamaican public servant

Yesterday, we saw clearly what Barbarians call pompassetting. First, former Public Defender, Earl Witter, publicly apologized for having proposed his deputy to fill the interim after he resigned. Next, we had the Jamaican a Film Commissioner, Carole Beckford, state that communications with her office that were ungrammatical were not treated immediately.

According to a Jamaica Gleaner report, Mr. Witter ‘reportedly wrote to the Governor General and the Speaker of the House of Representatives on December 1, apologizing for his recommendation for Matondo Mukulu to act in the position on Witter’s retirement earlier this year….In that letter, Witter reportedly said Mukulu was too young and inexperienced for the post….Witter also alleged that Mukulu had been waging an ‘unbecoming campaign’ to be appointed to the post.’

From what I saw, many people have reacted negatively to this news. Notably, Young Jamaica, the youth arm of the opposition Jamaica Labour Part, is questioning the motives behind Witter’s letter. According to the JLP’s youth arm, it is worth questioning whether envy of Mukulu’s achievements as Acting Public Defender played a part in the move by the former Public Defender.

Last week, news came that former Jamaican Bar Association President, Arlene Harrison Henry, was to be appointed as the post of Public Defender.

Age is not a formal criterion for selection for the post. Experience would seem to be relevant, but also a nonissue given that Mr. Mukulu was deputy and therefore formally set to act as PD, so was deemed to have the experience needed.

I’m not going to tackle the envy motive, but many have noted that Mr. Witter had moved slowly on many key issues, including the long-delayed report on the (previous) Tivoli Enquiry. Mr. Mukulu had show energy and a willingness for public engagement that many found refreshing and helpful.

Some would find issue with due process and undue influence. It’s sad that Mr. Witter regretted his decision, but that’s life. Presumably, the State was happy with it up to the point of appointing a formal replacement.

What would possess a former holder of a post to come out and be critical of the current holder, especially having nominated him? It seems like thinking a little too much of oneself, to me. I imagine that the reply from the GG and House of Representative, if any, were full of polite thanks. Did the letter influence the decision of the Public Services Commission?

My only real experience of Mr. Witter was to hear him bluster a defence of his delayed report to Dionne Jackson-Miller on her ‘Beyond the headlines’ current affairs program. He wanted to blame the media, mainly, I recall, for focusing on his having set deadlines and missed them, repeatedly. See my views on that, from March this year. He stoutly defended his refusal to explain to the media reasons for the delay. He was a public defender to the end, it seems, and thinks he still is.

The use of an age bar will incense many, seeing it as one of the reason Jamaica fails to be dynamic and progress. It would be worth some looking at how youthful leaders have been catalytic in change. Certainly, older people cannot use the circuitous argument that they hold posts because they can make good decisions. Anyone, who wants to challenge the rights of the aged need not go much further than a slew of private companies who’s youthful leader forged the way for things many now cherish. Did I hear the names Bill Gates and Steve Jobs? We don’t need to think about John F. Kennedy or Barack Obama as relatively young US presidents. We can look at our own youthful leaders in the shape of Edward Seaga, Michael Manley, and P.J. Patterson.

Jamaica has a problem making the most of what it has. Just a few days ago, I touched on that regarding how we acknowledge greatness in our athletes. It seems the national psyche has it deeply ingrained that to trash and bash is the way and that age is equal to sage.

Now, to Ms. Beckford. Unsolicited, as far as I could see, she decided to tell the world via Twitter (numbering added to show the sequence, and the last two were replies to me):
1. When you write to me in my official capacity as Film Commissioner and you have bad grammar, do not expect me to reply immediately.
2. Bad grammar = #BackgroundCheck in the business I am in
3. So I am to dumb down as the Film Commissioner? The Business of Film is worth something – I will maintain those standards
4. If you are approaching my office about the Business of Film, be prepared to be serious is all I ask

Now, what I know about film production or direction is little. Like most, I consume films. I’ve acted, in my time.

Having looked at the role of the Film Commissioner, I see nothing about its need to correct the nation’s grammatical failings. I take that to fall to the Minister of Education. It’s to promote the film industry. I can’t vouch for all, but I have seen many a film littered with what some would deem bad grammar.

I’m not going to split hairs over what that means, but for some it could be use of split infinitives.

I’m not going to get disgruntled if it doesn’t include the use of possessives before a gerund. Did you miss that class?

Should I be particular about the articulation of the participle, present, future, or past?

Why don’t you tell me about the film you’d like promoted? Is it any good?

We could get a situation that harks back to the days when scribes were plentiful. Those who were not literate had others write for them. Many Jamaicans still perform that role, at least informally. How many have been asked by someone to help them complete a form?

We’ve seen played out graphically in recent weeks the chasm that is the English language gap in Jamaica. Some academics have studied this and referred to it as a ‘language identity crisis’. So, with the benefit of having mastered English to some degree, you, as film commissioner, are going to penalise those who haven’t, for reasons you don’t care to know? I feel a script coming on. Well, that’s not how I want to see the funding to JAMPRO used.

Let me think back to the Jamaican films I’ve watched and enjoyed over the past year….Don’t rush me. I’m thinking. The truth is that I haven’t seen any. I’ve heard of some titles, including ‘Jamaican Mafia’, which seemed to get snarled up in a series of delays in its release. The harder they soon come? Are films being properly promoted or is ‘remedial English’ being offered?

I’m no lover of The Oscars, and all the red carpet hype, or disregard for certain genres or types of actors. But, plenty of Jamaicans are. Do they wish to, or hope to, see a Jamaican film nominated for an Oscar? It would be nice to see one of fiwi bredrin up inna di peeple dem bizniz. If we’re clever, we could do a remake of ‘My Fair Lady’, having Eliza Doolittle be a Jamaican from Wait A Bit, who learns to change how she speaks and writes (Patois) and becomes the flower of uptown Kingston society, after mastering the Queen’s English.

We could thrill as she learns that ‘rubble’ is debris and ‘rebel’ is a fighter. We could get goose pimples as we hear her elide from saying “chubblesum pickney” to “recalcitrant children”. She would learn that the plural of horse is horses, not horse-dem. She could move from sweeping the school classrooms at night, while her children sleep, to becoming the Principal of the school. Like the plot? Pity I wrote it out in my ‘bad’ or ‘broken’ English.

Some will wonder how many good ideas are languishing in a pending tray because an Oxford comma was missed. Sentences that did not start with a capital letter? What is the world coming to? What do you mean you wrote the script as if it were a series of text messages? How did I know that was a cinematographical ploy? IDK U YNG PPL.

I watched some films with my youngest daughter and her cousins the other afternoon–that’s Christmas family time. They can all read well, now. The youngest is four and oldest is eleven. They have great ideas, as befits the mind of children, but composing long or clear sentences is not their forte. I’ve tod them to write , just for the experience of trying to see an image in their heads and trying to share it with someone else without speaking. It’s hard. I listened to a man give his oral testimonial. I’ve no idea if he can write, but, in keeping with the Caribbean oral tradition, he can talk a good story. The essence of their stories is powerful. I wonder how many would-be (hyphen important) writers have their powerful ideas stuck in the ‘read not immediately’ pile?

Public service is about serving the public, whether elected or appointed to an office. It’s not about waging war on citizens over personal preferences. Standards aren’t the pet peeves you have to sift through the grit that is your real work. Do your job! Stick to the remit or demit!

Three Years in Power, Sean Paul Calls It Off, and Good Work in West Kingston: Monday, December 29, 2014

Thanks for the mention and support for our really great athletes. Both Alia and Dustin read the post and thanked me for it. Let’s hope 2015 sees them getting more love from Jamaica.

Petchary's Blog

So, we fight our way back from the Christmas holiday and look forward to the New Year – with some trepidation, perhaps, and the usual fake optimism and determination to do better in 2015. I will resist the temptation to do one of those year-end reviews. Or lists of “The Best/Worst of 2014” that no one ever agrees with. Let’s just get on with things. January 1 will be just another day to be thankful for…

Celebration time… Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. (Photo: Loop Jamaica) Celebration time… Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

The ruling People’s National Party is looking back with satisfaction on its achievements over the past three years and reminding us in a press release today of its “historic landslide victory” in the general elections of 2011. The PNP lists ten “important developments achieved on the people’s behalf” as follows (and I quote – my thoughts in italics): “The significant reduction in major crimes and…

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It’s not easy being clean

Yesterday, I listened to a man give a testimony in church. The Rector had said this would be one of three 5 minutes personal expressions of faith. Well, five minutes was not enough for the young man. Thanks for that.

He was articulate and clear. He talked about having graduated from high school and going to college for a year. He also touched on having been sent to private school. Those were more like asides.

His life had been beset by ‘distractions’ and some bad connections, which resulted in his having faced five criminal charges. He pleaded guilty to each in order to speed up the process. He’d been in jail twice: once in minimum security, once in maximum. Prison taught him lessons, including the need to step away from some people.

One of his distractions had been illegal drugs. He said he was done with those. He didn’t describe his crimes, but suggested violence was involved. He hinted at self defence, at least once.

He was funny and self-deprecating, saying he shunned the spotlight. But, he was in its full glare for about 15 minutes.

He could have begun with an excuse about not being good at public speaking. It would have been a lie. He captured his fall well. But, his story was meant to be about how his faith got him to the better path again.

I liked him for more than what he said.

In church, certain people often gather attention because they don’t dress up. He’d be one. He wore a Polo shirt and pants. I often fight labels but I know many can’t or won’t and he’d be labeled. But, he was perfectly at ease, to all appearances.

Standing in front of any audience can be an ordeal. Doing it when you are exposing your weaknesses or failings takes immense courage. He didn’t look flustered. I guess he’d made peace with himself and his God.

I needed to leave church early to go to the airport. I wanted to thank him for sharing his fall and rise. I also wanted to urge him to write. His story is great to share.

Some who listened wanted him to ‘wrap it up now’.

It may be Christmas, but wrapping up things should sometimes be done slowly in case the gift is damaged. The gift of telling your story in your own way is something that makes certain people uncomfortable. Cookie cutting life is a recipe for misery. Breathe in. Speak. Breathe out. Speak again. Avoid being made breathless by others.

It’s ironic that ‘I can’t breathe’ is becoming iconic, though due to another context.

I noticed that the man never seemed to get his words stuck in his throat. I wanted to ask him how that happened. But, I didn’t get a chance. Listening to him made my throat dry.

Storied existence: how Jamaica under sells its human assets

I had a difference of opinion with two journalists about what made their list of best stories over the past year. I repeat that I don’t do lists, partly because it sets up reactions like mine.

But, my inner economist got antsy. I thought quickly about the difference between noise and real data. What some wanted as stories above others betrayed a mistaking of noise over substance. Take two instances.

When Prof. Bain was fired by UWI, it led to some uproar about free speech and a little excitement about the implied issues about repealing buggery laws and the way the ‘gay agenda’ was taking over. The uproar included some street protests. But, who engaged on the topic? From what one heard and read, a small and narrow grouping. I don’t think any political heavyweight weighed in, even gently.

On the other hand, the NHT/Outameni saga, which still rolls on, found voices clamouring across the country, including elected political people, some of whom are now under the PM’s watchful eye for seeming disloyalty. The issues affect a large swathe of the nation and has relevance that the Bain/buggery story can barely hope to muster.

So, bluster should be something journalists should be able to discern. But, they may be part of the pot rattling.

In passing, my views questioned why the world record-equaling feat of swimmer, Alia Atkinson, was not ranked highly. One reaction was that it was the top sports story, suggesting that sport was some lower species. Sport often dominates national life and passion is rarely as high as when sporting issues are being discussed.

But, I was disturbed by the idea that the nature of the sport gave it less importance. One journalist argued that if the record had been set by one of our top two track stars it would have ranked higher. How odd. Swimming is an area where black athletes have shone as brightly as wet coal in a dark room. Many wondered if the black athlete could perform in water. Then, a black woman doing something for the first time, ever. Then, that woman being Jamaican. We’d really rank higher an achievement in an area where we’ve excelled for decades and in which we currently hold the highest accolades?

Economists like to focus on marginal difference, and we often talk about the relative change. So, moving from zero to hero must rank very high, compared to from hero to hero. Not so, in some Jamaican eyes. Therein lies a sad tale.

It suggests that we also value more additional lawyers and doctors, of which we have innumerable great ones, than nuclear physicists, of which we have barely any. It points to how we may have big problems making certain changes to our society, in a broad sense. It speaks to our love of the status quo.

We’ve the unedifying experience of having pushed away our top athletes. Merlene Ottey is one special example, who was deemed ‘past it’, but jumped into the arms of Slovenia to show that passing her was still hard to do. She sprinted at top international level well into her 50s, and is not done yet.

Dustin ‘Dreddy’ Brown. Jamaican to his core, but we didn’t want to invest in him.

We have had some notable success in international tennis, most notably with Richard Russell. But when a budding prospect named Dustin Brown came along we floundered. ‘Dreddy’ is an odd fish, for being German-born and German-speaking, but he’s a proud Jamaican. Our national association, however, dropped the ball, with lack of funding. Brown thought about playing for Great Britain, in 2010, using his grandparental linkage, but opted for his birthplace.

He now plays for Germany and continues to rise up the ATP ranking, now established in the top 100. He’s spectacular to watch, especially on grass and wowed crowds at Wimbledon. He’s a great doubles player. He beat then-number 1 player, Rafael Nadal, in straight sets in Halle, Germany, this June. He comes to Jamaica often to chill and try to give back.

Alia Atkinson get government and corporate funding

What do we want Alia to do? Sure, swimming is less popular than track. But, her moment was at least as significant as a Bolt world record.

It did not come from nowhere and she gave full warning during the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. She’s had support from government and corporate sponsors and inspires more than just swimmers.

It’s one thing very special to not get recognized by your country, especially when the rest of the world gives accolades. CNN featured Atkinson on Christmas Day.

We are a recognized sprint ‘factory’. It’s easy for us. Look, we even have a track star who craved recognition, then when he got it, decided that partying was more important than going to receive the award. He also had not enough wit to avoid being pictured partying while his agent lied that he was severely injured. That’s how we roll?

As I think about how we can progress, I think about how we can embrace change and difference. We don’t look convincing when we hold onto what could be seen as our stale diet. Maybe, refining our tastes and image of ourselves is a big challenge. But, we say proudly how “We likkle but we tallawah” but don’t let us step out of our box too much.

We fret about our brain drain, yet we ensure that the brains and brawn have few options but to leak away?

Advent is here and so are the idiots: Kermit can play James Bond

What I’ve learned over Advent is that the reason for the seasonal outpouring of goodwill by Christians or children who see adults as open pits of money is about exploitation. Often, when priests know during Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve that they should be letting people get back to bed quickly rather than rollicking on, it’s because they’ve been reminded of this fact. Most vicars are men and susceptible to male weaknesses. I’ve watched them keenly and during services they often cannot help kopping an eyeful of the lady in pew A and that dress. The one with the neckline so plunging it must end by her navel. Get behind me, Satan! He verbalises his guilt and projects it onto his congregation. Job done. He’s exploited them and can get on with his impure thoughts.

But, I also see that like Halloween is about ghouls, Advent is about fools. Where’s the proof?

Fox, a TV network set on justifying it’s name, fakes the words “Kill the cops” into a video tape. Oops! Imagine anyone who was present noticing. Well, they did. What the fox was going on with the studio? Easy. They were all abused as children and had no idea that Crack was not what was in Rice Krispies.

But, more. Rush Limbaugh, whose name seems fitting for a horse, never feels afraid to trot out his views when it would be better to leave that horse in its stable. He just couldn’t let Sony executives get away with the idea of a black actor, Idris Alba, playing ‘James Bond’. Rush – to – judgement said it can’t be so because Bond was white. What the Fox! Bond is fictional. Alba is an actor. It’s a role. How do all those females get pass Limb urge and play the role of the boy Peter Pan. I never, never heard a peep on that. What about Dustin Hoffman playing a woman? Shouldn’t he have had an extra woman play those parts? Or Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire. Tony Curtis liked it hot as a woman. What a bunch of Fox! It’s too easy to see Rusty Limpurge as a racist. Why? It’s white in front of your eyes!

Alba would be in the school of crossover actors. Didn’t that great English actor, what’s his name, black up and play ‘Othello’?

Paul Schofield, white on the inside

Patrick Stewart (Star Trek fame)? Michael Gambon?

Would we be happy if a white actor play President Obama? No! He should be played by a Chinese-Cuban transgender actress/actor, who’s won the audition after being pulled from the welfare rolls. That would be fitting.

Fools Rush in…Only confirmed murderers to play Hannibal Lecter? Next!

The Chinese want to outlaw puns 😨 They also want to ban Christmas! For C****t’s sake! Hold a meds!

Dont let the fools and exploiters steal the baby Jesus and spoil all the fun.

From high and low places, people want to take advantage of our good nature as this time. Tell them to stop it.

What day is it?

So, this is Christmas. For those of us lucky to be born or raised in the Tropics, more specifically, the Caribbean, it’s always special. /home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/85d/55521353/files/2014/12/img_0616.jpgIt’s the time for family. I loved seeing a notice from a company in Jamaica, reminding customers of the closure for the traditional holiday, from December 24 to January 2. We don’t mess with a little time off, we take at least a week. That gives most time to catch up and catch themselves, as we say.

Family time seems more precious, though. We are a region of migrants and that means younger ones fly away, mostly to study. Like good homing birds, though, they come back home, often. I was shocked to see my wife’s nephew, who’s at high school in the USA, training as a swimmer. The boy was a giant, at least 3 inches taller since I last saw him. He now had calves like a cow. Whatever his meal plan, it’s working.

Born in the Caribbean but raised in England, I see Christmas differently than most. I know the pinch of cold air on Christmas morning. Tiptoeing downstairs to see who was awake and if the milk and biscuits had been eaten, I had to be wrapped up warmly. I remember, now, a woolen, tartan dressing gown and lined slippers. Cold feet and hands would be ready to hold presents. Good grown-ups would already have gotten up and made a fire, so that crackling logs and a warm glow would cut the silence and the dark./home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/85d/55521353/files/2014/12/img_0614.jpgAn adult might be sitting in a chair, reading or gazing out of the window: “Morning, sleepy head. Merry Christmas!” Hot cocoa or tea, and a mince pie for first breakfast. Bigger food could wait. The eyes would look under the tree.

I laugh when I hear my Bahamian in-laws groan about how hot it is at Christmas. Never a real concern that getting out of the house would be a worry. How about waking to the sound of a shovel scraping snow from the doorway? That’s exciting, too. Some Christmas mornings are amazing when snow is on the ground and fresh powder to make snowballs is waiting for little hands. “Put on your boots and gloves!” No need to dress more than than. Whoosh! Gotcha! Nothing wrong with a little sledding on Christmas morning./home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/85d/55521353/files/2014/12/img_0613.jpg

Big breakfast arrives. I hope it’s in your tradition. Ham and eggs? You don’t eat pork? Sorry! More mince pies? I’m never averse to a slice of Christmas cake and a cup of tea.

Big breakfast is the highway to big dinner. I still think of England and having to be seated at the dinner table in time for the Queen’s Christmas message.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/85d/55521353/files/2014/12/img_0615.jpgMy Bahamian family don’t do that, though dinner at 3pm is the deal.

Their dinner is an affair bringing the many sides of my mother-in-law’s family together. It’s the women who decide whose family dinner to attend. Men have to abandon their heritage for a few hours. It’s a joint production, though, to get the food arranged. Nowadays, email chains give instructions and assignments. Everyone is ready to do their part to make it come together. If they’re like me, they visualize the complete meal and would blanche (inside joke) if it omitted a key element. No risk of “Who forgot the turkeys?” Some family secrets have been passed down, but the baked beans are the tester for the tasters.

Dessert is part of the dinner, but apart. It’s now the work of one household that does baking for a living. Bless them! Alleluia! No simple Christmas pudding with rum sauce as my previous mother-in-law would serve, with mince pies and custard as an option. No, sire! Carrot cake. Pineapple cake. Christmas cake. Torte. An assortment of assortments. No point listing. I will be listing by then.

Toasts and cheers when they suit you. Prefer them before the meal, and before we say the Grace. Anything said after needs to be brief and funny, with due respect to those who could not be present.

Go to it! Fill your glass with sorrel and ginger and close your eyes.

Help or hindrance? Housekeepers and security guards

I’m off island, staying at some friends’ home, while they are back in Jamaica for the holidays. Their housekeepers are still in the house. My family is easy to handle as we all know how to cook, wash, make beds, and clean. We also are out much of the time, heading back to base to sleep. Looking after us can be dull.

The housekeepers were bored, they told me when I got back early. I had wanted to take a late afternoon walk. But, I agreed to stay so that they could go out. There was only one ‘key’ to lock up. So, off they went. I caught up with messages and some reading and some football 🙂 I’d just had a late lunch with my wife and two of the daughters.

A couple of hours passed then the phone rang. One of the housekeepers wanted my wife’s number. I gave them the number at her mother’s, which is family ‘grand central station’. They had discovered that, now nightfall had come, they couldn’t get a bus back. They wondered when my lady would be headed back. They called her and got no joy; she was still raising GDP. They called me back and told me at least three times that my wife wasn’t back yet at her mother’s.

I listened. I got silence. “If you’re not too busy, could you pick us up?” I heard. I wasn’t surprised, at that point, but was on the point of being flabbergasted. These were not the visitors, unaware of local situations. I could barely contain how baffled I was, as I hung up and headed to the car, locking up, as I left.

What had they been thinking? Had they been thinking? Two women, out in the dark, and the simple options to get home dependent on the random activities of house guests.

But, I’ve come across this before. Around the home, at least, some people employed to do daily work seem to have a huge blind spot when forced to make their own decisions. I’ve noted the same with the new brand of ‘home help’ or ‘office management’ known as security guards. Is it adverse natural selection, of some Darwinian form, that lands certain people in these roles?

The security guard syndromes are seen in many countries. They may have some limited authority over who enters and leaves, and some are thrilled by that, some abuse the privilege, and some just use the post as a grazing ground, doing sweet nothing. Armed, now, with the modern opium of a smartphone, they often spend many hours texting and sharing images, or using the phone for extended chats. (I recalled that vividly, when I picked up the housekeepers. One got on her phone as soon as she sat in the car and I heard the pling, pling, of messages being exchanged. Her eyes were glued to the screen. “Please put on the seat belt,” I’d said. “I usually do that straight away,” she replied. I wondered what had changed, suddenly.)

The guards wield their authority within its narrow limits, but see what happens when they have to use discretion. Out comes the mythical rule book, which must have instructions prefaced by ‘Say, “We are not allowed to…”‘ I remember when my dad was in hospital for weeks and the security guards were the gate keepers for the intensive care unit. No one passed them. They took names and went to plead on visitors’ behalf with the nurses and doctors, and often, they came back with “They’re doing the rounds…it’ll be a little while.” That while sometimes went for hours. After a few visits, I pulled rank and engaged my brain. I knew the routines, by then, and some of the staff, and would try to bypass the security force, especially if they were in the midst of a call or message trail. He or she would feebly protest, and I would usually do what I needed, which was often just to let the staff know that I’d bought some medicine my father needed. (That’s how it works in developing countries.) On exiting, I got a little lecture and sometimes a request for ‘dinner money’ from the security detail. I’d sometimes give a side eye. I never went higher up the ranks and call in the doctors whom I knew at the hospital, especially the senior-ranking relative.

So, the ladies were fine doing their stuff in the home, but in the real world outside they seemed a little clueless. I told them they were crazy to go off and not have figured out how to get back. That was met with silence. I listened to the Jazz on the radio. When, we got home, neither of them could recall who had the garage opener–the ‘key’. I’d closed the garage door from inside and stepped over the beam, when I was leaving. They have a little confab, then pressed the button, strolled in and got into more phone-love. I sighed.

I thought about sharing the story with my wife when she got in. I figured she’d be one degree short of nuclear fission. /home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/85d/55521353/files/2014/12/img_0611.jpgFew housekeepers are adorable in their inanity, like Amelia Badelia, in her confused state over pot plants.

When I wrote earlier this week about how some people are trapped in a world they didn’t create, it was because of an incident with our own housekeeper, whose personal situation is complicated, but similar thought processes are there. One basic problem is she doesn’t understand modern banking, and sees money only as physical cash, though she understands that her cash ‘moves’ to another country. I should check if she understands how that works. But, it means she struggles to see how to resolve financial problems without seeing money in her hands. She zoned out when I suggested she borrow cash from a friend and that I’d reimburse the amount to the friend by Internet.

The housekeeper syndrome can be complicated when they are foreigners in a country, as the ladies I dealt with are, but they’ve been here years. Language isn’t a barrier for them, as it is in my home. Neither is a stark difference in culture. But, the struggle is in the thinking through. I see it sometimes in the decisions about food. We’ve said we won’t be around much. But, the routine may be to cook daily or regularly. With the hosts away, for whom are they cooking the huge ham? Sure, I took a few slices to make an evening sandwich, but didn’t need to.

I’m not going to dabble much into another aspect of life with these two species. Suffice to say, that I had a long conversation with some women who had tales to tell about housekeepers who pilfered, in many ways. Some oil here, some clothing there, a bit of flour here, some jewelry there. That seems to go to something else in the employer-employee relations.

A similar situation often occurs with guards who are fixtures at the home. I recall my posting in west Africa. The head of an oil company couldn’t understand how his diesel for the generator was being used so fast. Well, not until he caught his guard with a liter bottle full going home. Do that each day…

Sure, need and lack of income play their part. But, why is trust lopsided?

At my home, I recall having two guards day and night, initially. I observed what they did and decided one shift would do. My house was full of staff during the days, and one could open the heavy gate, which seemed to be the main task of the guard. That is, apart from hanging by the kitchen for food. At night, they each took turns to sleep, while one kept guard. Again, I understand that both might have had a full day’s work already, but my family’s security shouldn’t be subject to their fatigue. Get me some bad dogs.

The owner of the security company, an American, had told me to report immediately any slackness. I did. Once, when a guard was sleeping, I took away his truncheon and I threw stones nearby to see what happened. At first, little reaction. Then I threw more stones around the back yard, off the roof. He got up and looked for his truncheon, then took a brief peep around the corner. He came back to his post and went back to sleep. I got a bucket of ice water and doused him. He jumped up and rubbed his eyes. “I was not sleeping. I was in prayer,” he protested. I nearly cried in pain as my stomach cramped while I held in the laugh. I asked him where was his truncheon. He looked on the floor, then inside his rest room. Nothing. I handed it to him. His boss had said that I should take it if ever I found the guard asleep and take it to the office. I gave it back to the guard and suggested he make his report to his boss, whom I’d speak to later. He did not work at my home after, and I saw him doing other work weeks later. Harsh reality for him, but peace of mind for me. I’m a light sleeper.

We only had one theft, of some white, plastic chairs, one night. The thief was caught renting the chairs…he was one of my guards. Someone tried to break in upstairs once when we were away, by scaling a balcony. We never figured that out, especially as the house backed onto the ocean, with rough sea and a rocky bank to climb. It seemed more like an opportunistic inside job, while the house was only occupied by our male housekeeper. Considering that my residence was between that of two ambassadors, and I shared a wall with each, and they were well-guarded, too, the thought of a bandit or more getting that far without detection is hard to believe.


Jamaica has had home help for centuries and it’s part of our social fabric. It’s social policy and economics in action. Some see the problems I’ve outlined as part of failed education. People with few tradeable skills, doing things that require little more than what has been done since childhood. Managing a home, is complicated. Some employees can’t do it, but are charged to try. They can barely manage themselves.

Security work is relatively new on the scale we now see it. In the home, it’s still for the privileged few. In businesses and offices, it’s more the norm. When I buy bottled gas, the payment is to office staff but all the physical transactions are done by security guards. That’s one of the better set ups. It’s often boring work, though. Though, we don’t need it jazzed up with regular shooting or attempted assaults. It’s often the case in Jamaica that one sees as many people headed to work in security uniform as dressed as nurses or office staff. That’s excluding ‘elite’ staff, like rapid response staff, decked in flak jackets, armed, and on motorbikes.

Agreed that our society has too few good jobs. But, agreed, too, that it has too many badly educated people. If these jobs didn’t exist, what a calamity. Our domestic help is not like the polished butlers and housekeepers we often see in fictional tales. They’re a rag tag bunch, barely able to do much else. Likewise, our security workers are not like SAS- or Navy Seal-trained calibre. If they’re young, we’re lucky. If they’re older, we can expect them to be ninjas.

Santa, wha’ di Ras Santa a ride?

If the Christmas story of Santa Claus has meaning, it must fit its context. A Canadian asked how does Father Christmas come to Jamaica. Well, it can’t be on a sleigh with reindeer. I saw a picture of a Jamaica Santa being pulled by a team of what looked like Doberman dogs. That fits an image.

Ride your donkey!

My own thought is that Ras Nick used to come on a dutty ole dankey, smelling like wet, worn socks. Children would know he’d been by the odour left behind. Jamaicans have a long tradition of donkey riding.

Those olden-day things reflect when times were harder, in some material ways. Most people lived in country and few had electric light and running. The Ras would put on red rags that looked more like a Jonkanoo costume.

Traditional Jonkanoo gear is just right for a Jamaican Santa

Jamaican boys know that the box cart is as fast as many vehicles.

Box cart derby, anyone? Or, just jazz it up.

Why wouldn’t Ras Nick opt for that, especially if he starts from atop the Blue Mountains, where he has his island outpost from his Greenland HQ?

We saw this year, during one of the rare heavy rainstorms, how the hand cart was good for carrying more than cane sticks, coconuts, or bags of carrots. The cart was good as a taxi, so Ras Santa could take some of his helves to help him ‘anding out di gifs dem.

Half Way Tree, we’re going?

Ras Nick may want to be like one of the people and use public transport, even though that would dent his image, severely. It’s hard to imagine, but he could wait for a taxi or a Coaster bus. The problem would be where to put all the gifts as the vehicle would already be packed with people and their bags.

Taxi or romping shop? Pull up di riddim, driver!

He’d also be challenged by the choice of music likely to be blaring out inside the vehicle. Christmas Carols haven’t been a hit in dance hall for as long as I can remember. Nick would have problems feeling at ease with the idea of his having to twerk his way through the night with a sack on his back.

Another issue with public transport is the high rate of accidents and the foul language that is common amongst the operators.

If di ‘eat inna di kitchen too ‘ot, tek weh yuself!

The risk that all of the children’s gifts could end up strewn across some roadway would make the helves blanche–not a pretty sight for normally dark-skinned people.

Some novel public transport options exist. Ras Santa could hire a pedal cab from Bobsled Cafe.

No colour issues, here

That may just be the ticket.

But, maybe, with all these local options, our dreadlocks Santa may just stick with convention and fly in on a sleigh, after all.


Sometimes, the tried and tested way is the simplest and best.

Merry Chrismuss to oonu, wan han hall!

Mix up and blend up, Santa. Everything cris’ and even.
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