Well, this is the final chapter in the wanderings through the alphabet that my colleagues Dennis Jones, Susan Goffe and I embarked on at the beginning of the month. Sadly and ironically perhaps, it must end with a topic that we have become pretty obsessed with in the last few months. Ms. Goffe should have had this letter though, as she is far more expert on the latest mosquito-borne virus than I am!
How the Zika virus spread to our side of the world.
Both my husband and I had the Zika virus at roughly the same time. After a few twinges of joint pain (reminiscent of the joys of chikungunya – the last virus we suffered from back in 2014!) we then started to feel slightly feverish and rather tired. Then we had rashes on our arms and legs. After a day, the rashes were gone. And that was…
When one considers politicians’ decisions that their ‘race is run’, no clear patterns emerge. Just last week, Britain held a referendum on its EU membership and the PM, who staunchly urged people to ‘remain’, quickly announced his resignation after the people voted to ‘leave’. His opposing leader also urged ‘remain’ and he is now under heavy pressure from members of his party to ‘leave’. The reasons surrounding each set of decisions seem clear.
In Jamaica, our last general election saw the then-governing party lose its sizeable Parliamentary majority and win one seat less than the then-opposition party. But, a majority of one seat is enough. Many think that defeat in the national polls means the head of the party should step down–especially when they’ve chosen to call the vote–not least because he/she was the standard bearer for the mandate and if ‘the buck stops here’, then at least the leader should offer to step down. So, it’s interesting to see that not happening, and every hint that the leaderene will remain.
The party is not yet in uproar, but reports are of seismic rumblings. Now, context is all. The lady said she did not look like a loser, so why should she go? Election result? What does that matter? Oh, the bliss of being blithely ignorant.
X marks the spot! Right here on the map. Jamaica. 18.1096° N, 77.2975° W. I don’t know what terminology our island’s first inhabitants, the Tainos, used to locate us on the map. The winds, sea currents and stars that would have been part of the guiding elements.
And then, with the arrival of Europeans, Jamaica became located on their maps. A Wikipedia page has pictures of a few of those early maps:
Benedetto Bordone, 1528
Tomaso Porcacchi, 1572
Old Maps Online also has links to pictures of a variety of maps of Jamaica, such as this one:
Colin Liddell, 1895
By the way, CaribbeanExams.com has a nice, simple series of maps showing how the parishes of Jamaica have changed over the centuries:
And every school child in Jamaica has had the task of learning the names of the parishes and their capitals…
These days, we can also access Jamaica via satellite…
Someone reminded me today that just a year ago we were all obsessed with water. Why? Because there was none. The 2015 drought (there was a 2014 one too) was beginning to really bite last June, while temperatures soared – including more warm nights (haven’t we all felt this?) Many Jamaicans had no water in their pipes, at all. Rivers ran dry. Bush fires burned.
A bush fire threatens this house in Llandewey, western St. Thomas. This photo was taken in May, 2015. (Photo: Ian Allen/Gleaner)
No one is talking much about what local media like to call “the precious commodity” this year, because we have had rain. But we are still worried about water in one sense. We are now storing rainwater (which is good, right?) but in that water breeds wriggling mosquito larvae, which are giving us diseases. It seems we cannot win.
In the USA, English is the ONLY official language. Why then would many public and private organizations do anything but communicate in English? Marketing! By that I mean reaching the widest audience possible. For that reason, in areas like Washington DC, it’s no surprise to see signs like this on a public bus I was riding this morning, as I wrote this post.
What that shows is an awareness that officially-sanctioned things are not what makes for effectiveness.
Greater Washington and many other parts of the USA has many Hispanic people. Spanish is clearly the 2nd most used language in these area. So, more people get ‘served’ in both English and Spanish. No need for government diktat. But, no one can be forced to present things other than in English. However, most official and business entities offer both. Get an answering machine and you’re presented with English and Spanish options. Yet, Spanish is a FOREIGN language in the USA. But, its prevalence has changed accepted practices.
Step now into Jamaica. We’ve not seen fit in most places to pay lip service to the prevalence of a second NATIVE language. No public broadcasts or publications are in Patois. (Some local businesses have done so with adverts.) Now some of that reflects the fact that Patois is really our oral means of communication. It’s not codified in written form. (Seychelles has Creole as one of its three official languages and teaches it in school.) But that’s not the full Jamaican story.
Patois separates Jamaicans. Those who are skilled in standard English are usually better educated and probably better off in many material ways. Patois as the main language is used by our ‘lesser’ citizens. So, giving it more prominence means implicit relegation of standard English and with that implicit devaluation of a better education. That’s a big social boulder.
Giving Patois any kind of high position also gives better voice to the illiterate, no longer trapped by the written word.
But the problem of our illiteracy is much broader than the Patois-standard English debate: it goes to the core of how much progress we can expect to make.
My contention is that we’ve been ashamed of Patois, like having only torn underwear. A shame fostered by those who see it only as ‘broken’ or ‘bad’ English, ‘corrupt’ and not honourable in being ‘derived’ like standard English (as Miss Lou noted).
But that sense of shame has been carried with a perversely proud prejudice. If you don’t believe me check the transcripts or television recordings of the West Kingston Commission of Inquiry (COE) that concluded this year. See how mastery of the languages separate the classes and the actors.
It’s also my contention that it’s one of many things that’s made us less productive and less competitive. That comes from the many ‘messages’ that get missed by people who do not understand well standard English, or the misunderstanding that comes from poor understanding of Patois by those not familiar with it. Again, check the confusions during the COE. Many foreigners working in Jamaica, who have studied standard English, comment that they do not understand much of what ordinary Jamaicans say to them. I would call that lost market opportunity.
Ironically the world expects Jamaicans to speak Patois, or at the very least have a very distinct accent and many word uses that are not standard. Remember VW’s 2013 Super Bowl ad? I lose count of the people I encounter when I travel who hear my very clear English and refuse to accept that I’m a Jamaican.
The people have spoken! But, how did they speak? Jamaica’s proud of its democratic traditions; voting has been used as the only means to change national government. But, people don’t see voting as their only voice: fewer than 50 percent of the electorate decided to ‘speak’ at our 2016 elections. What does that really mean?
But, large parts of the UK–Scotland, Northern Ireland and Greater London–voted clearly to remain. Will people in those areas want their different voices to be heard and acted upon?
The #Brexit vote holds other interesting pointers. Younger people (under 45) voted clearly to remain; those older voted clearly to leave–ironically, they are the generation who voted the UK in. So, UK political division is generational.
For Jamaica, age data from our election are not yet available.
Sometimes it is not easy to remain upfull in Jamaica…positive, encouraged and uplifted. Sometimes it is necessary to pause consciously and intentionally to appreciate the beauty of Jamaica, that can be a counterbalance to things that are harsh, painful and unjust.
I have only seen a sea turtle once – a Green Turtle, from a glass-bottomed boat in Negril. It was a fleeting glimpse of a fascinating creature, which looked like a painted mechanical toy.
Hawksbill Sea Turtle nesting beach at Manatee Bay in the Portland Bight Protected Area – now threatened by a port development. (Photo: Mike Fouraker)
A female sea turtle returns to the sea after laying her eggs. (Photo: TripAdvisor/Oracabessa Foundation)
Sea turtles were once abundant in Jamaica. In the 17th century, and especially in the Port Royal area, there was a “turtle industry.” When caught, they were kept alive in a “turtle crawle” – a hollowed-out enclosure near the sea, where the turtles could swim freely but could not escape; rather like the Dolphin Cove tourist attractions today, except the wild dolphins are required to perform tricks, not be eaten. Turtles were also shipped to England, and…
We’re often led to believe that adults should show children the way, but in the age of social media it may be that adults need lessons from the children–and mistakes they make.
We’ve seen recently what some call the allure of social media on politicians–its magnetism is partly the prospect of immediate disclosure and sharing of thoughts to a world that is almost limitless. Who actually reads or listens or watches is not always known, but a ready audience in there to consume. Sweet populism!
I’m sure Coleridge had no notions of social media when he wrote Kubla Khan:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure-dome decree
Let me work with the idea I’ve had for ages that some people seem to think social media is ‘out of this world’: it’s a warp-speed space, where actions are taken swiftly and human behaviours often defy Earthly norms. Look around at its use: it seems clear, even by politicians who seemingly have high intelligence.
Perhaps that simple postulation explains some of the tweeting in Jamaica about #MyPersonalView. Some people think that social media is a dumping ground for personal views, unbounded–little thought for basis or consequence. He or she who thinks that has started on a slippery slope, where reason has been left behind. Trolls are but one of the savage beasts lurking there.