September–let’s remember: The Thirties

I became a father…in my 30s: a beautiful girl, not yet in her 30s, is the proof. Born in the shadows of Arsenal, grown in the shadow of Spurs 🙂 

Bruce Castle, Tottenham

I went to the World Cup Final, in Mexico, in 1986. Diego! Sitting in a palco behind the goal where all the action happened. 🙂 Bitter-sweet victory for Argentina, after the hand of ‘god’ stole a match from England. 

I went to work in the USA…in my 30s: trading The Thames for The Potomac River;  countless air travel and interesting passport stamps followed.

I went to Africa, again…in my 30s: Entebbe airport–the black man works for the IMF 😳Kampala, streets with traffic lights that didn’t work, but places where one could get a haircut: Mama Africa, where are you?

I went to Russia…in my 30s: Moscow’s frozen streets, vodka, The Kremlin, and a first McDonald’s restaurant, opened January 30, 1990.

That’s plenty for a decade, I think.

Police record timeout: top marks for Jamaica Constabulary Force

I went downtown this morning to take the next step in my efforts to get a police record–that is, short of committing a crime. I started a bit confused as I left my bag and papers at school, where I’d had a meeting for parents. I had just reached DUke Street when I got a message asking me if I’d left my bag. So, round trip back to school to get it from my good friend. Bless, her. Then, back to downtown again.

On my first trip, I had bumped into a lady parking attendant, on the corned of East and Duke Streets. As I asked her which way to number 34, she muttered: “I likkle girl jook out anodda one eye…” sas she stood outside St Aloyouisus School. We exchanged words about life decades ago. “Where are you from?” I told her right here in downtown: “But you did live in a Inglan,” she added. Guilty.Sh asked where I’d parked and she said she was going my way. I then realized I had left some papers in the car, and wheeled. I decided to take her advice and try for parking closer to number 34. As I came from my new location, I bumped into her again. We exchanged smiles. 

As I walked on, I noted little attempts at elegance: pots of plants on the sidewalk. A gesture in the right way. 

Pretty little plant pots

I also saw familiar sights of downtown hustle; fruit peelings, tidily in a box. 

Hustle, hustle, hustle…

When I got to the front desk, I was asked my business, then asked for supporting pictures, and if I had other required forms of ID. I did. I went to sit and complete my form. It was relatively straight-forward, save for asking me about my complexion: I had no idea what to put, and left it blank. I didn’t seem to matter. Minutes later, form completed, I was called. Finger prints were taken, and my pictures attached. I then went to join 20-odd people waiting in another room at Technical Division of JCF, 34 North St. My receipt from Tax Administration Jamaica and passport were checked, and I was told to come back in a week’s time. 

I had entered at 9.50, and was out by 10am. I was stunned. Someone had said it would take a while. I was seen third of the people in the room. Thanks for my process being that simple. 

Give TSD of the JCF and A+. 🙂

A decent number of people waiting, patiently to be called

September–let’s remember: The 29th. What a day!

January 29 1955 is a famous day: I was born. A ‘Saturday child’. You know the nursery rhyme?

Monday’s child is fair of face,

Tuesday’s child is full of grace;

Wednesday’s child is full of woe,

Thursday’s child has far to go;

Friday’s child is loving and giving,

Saturday’s child works hard for its living;

But the child that is born on the Sabbath day

Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.

And I have worked. But, it has been fun. So much fun, that I just want to work more, except I decided to retire early, and that entails doing more work for less (i.e. no) pay. 🙂 You reap what you so. But, the day has other meanings. The numerologists are all over my number. Read:

Soul Power Number 29

If you are born on the 29th of any month you have come in on an incredible soul-learning curve and coping with the unexpected is all part of that. Do not allow yourself to dwell on the past or on fears and insecurities even though people, especially partners of both a romantic and business nature, may disappoint you. You will find your later years are more rewarding than the other ones in personal relationships and if you have learned from your past, true and lasting love and happiness with then be yours. If you can open your mind to the concept, consider that everything that happens to you in this life is a result of actions in a past one and things may start to make a lot more sense at that point. You will be helped if you read as much as you can about reincarnation and karma.

You are usually gifted and have talent but success may elude you again until later life due to you underestimating your abilities and allowing others to undermine your ideas. Once you learn to defend your ideas and stick to them, success will be yours. Yours is also a number which may have to face a natural disaster such as flood, fire, earthquake, storms or even a man-made one such as war. If you are faced with circumstances such as these you must understand you must fight for your survival and not succumb as this is about developing your inner strength.

If you face challenges in your early years please do not think this is the way your life is always going to be. Remember, the storm clouds eventually blow away to reveal the Sun again just as the first part of your life will give way to a better future.

There!

Should I say more, of just let that sink in?

September–let’s remember: It’s September 28, 2009, a dark day for Guinea

On a sombre note, September 28 marks the date of massacres in Guinea, in 2009. I’d left my assignment there three years earlier, and the rumblings of civil disturbances had already begun, while President Lansana Conté was still in power. A military coup led by a group of military officers, naming themselves The National Council for and Development (Conseil national pour la démocratie et le développement, CNDD) seized power hours after the death on December 22, 2008, of President Conté, Guinea’s president for 24 years. The CNDD was headed by a self-proclaimed president, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara.

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Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara

 

The horrific killings that took place at the aptly named Stade du 28 septembre, has been called ‘premeditated’ by Human Rights Watch. The infamous Presidential Guard (‘berets rouges’/red berets) were at the heart of the atrocities.  Reports indicate that the 50,000 people protesting against the government insude the stadium were peaceful. Reports also indicate that there was an ethnic element to the massacre, with mainly Christian officers targeting Peuhls (who are predominatly Muslims). Many, including a good friend, and former PM,  Cellou Dalein Diallo, the leader of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UDFG), were arrested and taken away in lorries

The government tried to play down the atrocity, including by claiming the dead were just under 60 people, while other figures indicated between 150-200.

The matter went to the International Criminal CourtAn inquiry was launched in 2010, after Capt Dadis Camara was ousted and fled to Burkina Faso. Dadis Camara was indicted by a court in 2015.

 

Where are the ‘Lacey Bartleys’ in Jamaica? Are they alive and well, or dying slowly?

In the words of the lady herself: “They are here, but desperately seeking resources and avenues to make a difference. It is difficult for them as they are not given an environment in which to flourish.”

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I kept a promise to visit the workshop managed by Lacey Bartley, on my next trip to Mandeville. She recently had time with the Branson Centre of Enrepreneurship. In 2014, Lacey was named JBDC Entrepreneur of the Year, from over 215 small business owners. My blogger friend, Emma Lewis recently told Lacey’s story  on her blog, noting that Bartley’s is seeking funding. My interest was in the business itself, and to see if a few suggestions could help with business development. Lacey was kind enough to let me film her in her office, and post a live chat on Facebook and Twitter. It looks like a nice, no mess promo film, to me. 🙂

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Courtesy JIS

But, let me repeat some of the essentials about the business. Bartley’s All in Wood designs, manufactures and sells 100% Jamaican handmade wooden traditional and contemporary furniture, jewellery, office and home accessories. Her main market is the tourism sector, in a broad sense. We ‘natives’ shouldn’t be shy to make her look towards us, though.

On her production strategies, Lacey has indicated that quality finishes and personalized service give products designed and tested based on the feedback and demands from its customers. As the company slogan best puts it, “Outta Many One Wood”. Bartley’s work with various wood types including: Cedar, Quango, Mahogany, Blue Mahoe, Poplar, and Pine and others. The products can be found in over eight shops and salons island-wide, and can be bought online.

One of Lacey’s important objectives is ‘social responsibility’, which covers many areas, from environmental concerns (eg. Mango wood is quick-growing, so it a sustainable variety), gender equity and equality (women farmers are helped, women are being trained to do wood finishing, young men are being trainded to do most of the woodwork), and economic sustainability in a holistic sense, by embracing and creating linkages (the workshop and house are the bottom of a steep lane, and the surrounding community is really a rural business ‘incubator’). She employs 11 part- and full-time workers. Lacey is building a ‘Circular economy’: Using the resources and people around us to build. 

Many of Bartley’s wood products are made from scrap wood, though Lacey told me that she and her father also have local lumber suppliers, to whom they are loyal. But, Lacey calls herself a scavenger. So, while wood types vary, their off-cuts are used in every way, as good magnets, a variety of small items. The items don’t look alike, hence the term ‘bespoke’; a set is quantity, not colour, shade, or wood pattern. Sawdust goes to local chicken farmers, mainly women. However, Lacey is looking for funding to buy a wood chipper to make more sawdust: a bag of wood chips sits in the doorway of the house where she and her family work. Her father and some men were doing work on that house, which he told me had been undergoing renovation for 20 years.

But, for every ‘Lacey’, who has gotten recognition and seems to understsand well how to navigate the corridors and links for grant funding and other financial support, are there many who just flounder? Lacey has two degrees and she and I together struggled to find our way around a website that could open the door to some funding. Our four eyes seemed to find the right key, eventually, but she’d been trying for a few days, without success.

I’d suggested that she try to get a booth as an exhibitor at the upcoming FOROMIC event in Montego Bay. We looked at the cost, almost US3000 and Lacey blanched: “That’s almost a month’s sales!” Is the risk going to be outweighed by the rewards?

The Creation Story, told in simple pictures, from wood pieces to shaped objects

Simple, attactive key chains
Pot of local beeswax
Office desktop accessories, part of a rush order
Cool beauty in many ways
Twenty years and counting …
 

Lacey’s company has been in business for five years. That’s a long time for a new firm. How much longer will it be there? If her father’s renovation is anything to go by, a good few decades. Will she spawn or encourage others? Maybe. Lacey has formalized what she does, which is also not the norm for small businesses in Jamaica. As I found out a few days later, tax compliance is low in general and especially low with newer firms. Lacey is one of the exceptions. Being ‘above board’ is costly, and while it is a distortion of reality to make profits that are supported by not paying taxes, it’s an understandable position taken by many firms. But, let me leave that aside, for the moment.

I wish Lacey well, and encourage her in her efforts. I also encourage you to support her with real dollars. I’ll be checking in on her, periodically.

September–let’s remember: Close to seven

It’s a stretch to say that the time is nigh. Night draws in. It’s close to 7. Jamaica is looking into a dark tunnel that has been dub by crime, and whose dirt has never been properly cleared away. The tunnel looks like it may soon cave it. But, will it happen because eyes have been wide shut for too long? Will it be because hands tied behind their backs have been the MO of our police force?

When politicians only talk about priorities but never do things to make those real, it cannot end well. Check my blog post from today, Crime in Jamaica: A visit to the Twilight Zone.

Crime in Jamaica: A visit to the Twilight Zone

Jamaica has a parallel ‘universe’, where crime lives, & it’s a mental as much as physical space, born from our notions of exceptionalism. It’s a kind of Twilight Zone, whose borders seem to be expancing.

Former National Security Minister, Peter Bunting recently renewed his call for a high level summitchaired by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, with support from the relevant ministries that will give support to the implementation of social intervention strategies. This was in response to a rapidly escalating level of murders in western Jamaica. 

With the best will in the world, it’s the sort of thing politicians will suggest: they are people used to exercising power and influence and see that as a process that comes from above. Personally, I think that while such approaches might have worked at some stages in the past, it’s not clear that they have much hope now? Why?

The battle against crime was lost long ago when ordinary people did not see it was in their interest to not lose control of their communities to criminals. Like a tangling weed, once the cracks started to form, the weed spread. So, it’s much the case that many communities live cheek-by-jowl with crime and criminals, but have become unable to address the negatives that poses. The recent Tivoli Enquiry gives some idea of why that might have happened. Criminals could deliver goods, services, justice, in a manner that the state or other entities could not. The tolerance of criminals was sweetened by a life that many openly admit they wished was still there. Perverse though it may seem, people felt safer.

So, with that sort of background a high-level summit would not get far, UNLESS and UNTIL, it were to include ‘Dons’ and criminals who are also ‘stakeholders.

The other stakeholders who must be there are ordinary citizens. So, if anything, the summit needs to be truly national and probably LOW LEVEL attack. Answers to crime in communities must come from the many ‘Ground Zero’ battlefields where crime has taken control.

That is an enormous challenge. Why?

Jamaicans have grown up with many reasons for not assisting in fighting crime:

  • Informers are not to be trusted and should be eliminated–that means that it’s a very brave soul who openly offers to the authorities information about crime.
  • Police have been corrupt and knowingly complicit in fostering crime–whether the crooked police have been in cahoots with criminals or doing their own range of crimes, law-enforcement agents have been seen as much as cause as cure of problems.
  • Politicians have for too long just uttered ‘buzz words’ with little evidence that these carry content and drive any real change.
  • Politicians have also been long-suspected of being closely associated with criminals. Just this morning, former Contractor-General, Greg Christie (@Greg0706), posed this question on Twitter.Screen Shot 2016-09-27 at 7.49.30 AM.png The fact that such a question could be posed by someone who’s prime role was to look into the awarding of government contracts is startling. However, Former Security Minister Bunting made it clear in 2014 that the link exists, and has been part of the root problem in solving crime

    “Criminals would support party candidates and were often rewarded with contract works. Hopefully, the worst days of this criminal gang/political nexus are now behind us, but we must acknowledge our contribution,”  The ‘worse days’ may be over, but the bitter fruit are still on the tree. So, sinner, heal thyself!

    Bunting, while contributing to the Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives, said to substantially reverse violence in the country, “we have to change the attitudes and behaviours around the violence-related risks and causal factors”.

    The minister said Jamaica has, for decades, developed a subculture of violence and lawlessness that has been reinforced and promoted by segments of the society. He said the connection between elements of both political parties and criminal gangs and dons is one of the causal factors in the culture of violence:  “Criminals would support party candidates and were often rewarded with contract works. Hopefully, the worst days of this criminal gang/political nexus are now behind us, but we must acknowledge our contribution.”

  • Jamaicans have a strange tolerance for many things that they should oppose. This is a feature of daily life, and shows itself in the most mundane incidents, but rises to the highest levels. Jamaicans often try to find reasons to excuse the inexcusable. If they feel that the welfare of the ordinary citizen (‘the little man’) is at stake, they rally to save his ‘opportunities’ to ‘eat a food’. But, again, like the weed spreading, the nation then finds itself unable to oppose bigger things because it’s been so accepting of everything up to that point.

Former National Security Minister, Peter Bunting, introduced the ‘Unite for Change Campaign‘ in 2013. One of its features was the introduction of a ‘mobile phone application (app) that will enhance the resources currently available to empower citizens and improve their level of safety and security’: “This app will offer each Jamaican the opportunity to play their part by engaging either the iReport, Panic Mode, The Law or Alert icons on their mobile devices in order to report incidents of crime, seek assistance from the police or be informed about their rights.”

Mr. Bunting added: “In this respect the Ministry has embarked on an intensive programme of public education and resocialisation to displace the dysfunctional elements in our culture,” noting that crime is an outcome of failures at varying levels of the society; the family, community, school, church, the built environment and governance structures.

His successor, Robert Montague, earlier this year agreed to continue the program.

Now, I have never seen any report that indicates, at the least, how the public is using this app: eg, number of alerts, follow-up, criminals apprehended, etc. A renewed notice about the app appeared in the newspapers in June. I downloaded it onto my phone when I first saw its availability, but have never had cause to use it. I may just start doing so, however, for the many minor transgressions I witness. MY only problem is that I see these while driving, and being a careful citizen, I’m not going to interact with my device while driving. Maybe, I will have to stop and work it, next time. Watch out!screen-shot-2016-09-27-at-9-35-36-am

But, the other aspect about crime is the inevitable feeling that politicians are cynical–ie about their self-interest and self-preservation, and buzz words are for votes. They came to have little meaning quickly as national elections loomed and business was more about ‘divide to rule’, rather than unite for change. The best example of a unity approach would have been a coalition government, but heaven forbid!

I reminded some people the other day how then-PM Portia Simpson-Miller had rejected the overture from then-Opposition Leader, Andrew Holness to walk together through ‘garrisons’. That tells you a lot. It also tells you why being optimistic about crime being ‘tackled’ based on initiatives from politicians are as likely to be failures than successes.

‘Taking back the streets’ is not an empty phrase. But, for it to have meaning, it has to have meaning. Who is going to start to take back the community in which they live? It’s not for the faint of heart. But, saving your country rarely is.

Putting security forces on the streets will have the effect of making it seem that ‘something’ is being done. But, for the impact of that presence to really mean something, the criminals have to decide to stop committing crimes. The rationale for doing that, however, seems weak. Jamaica is notorious for not being able to catch criminals, and then not being able to use the law effectively to sanction them. So, the odds favour continuing with crime, not stopping it.

The police routinely state that x murders were ‘gang-related’, yet that ‘intelligence’ seems to not be brought to bear to curb gangs beforehand. There’s a peculiar disconnection there that goes back to people’s suspicions about the police. But, it could also be that the police are inept. A report yesterday pointed out how out-dated are many of the police’s practices in the area of tracking crime, with local paper records that cannot be inter-connected, and work practices that seem at odds with effective policing. That tells us about political priorities in the past, and we are living with the consequences of those.

But, all of that has left the country in a state where each day sees the apparent spreading crime, and once-quiet communities now find they are just as prone. I listened to the radio this morning and heard reports of how schools in crime-riddled areas are having to ‘lock down’. These are the actions of a place in a state of war, or siege. Criminals, for their part, seem totally ready to do everything to defend what they have and hope to gain.

Therein lies the bigger problem. Force is not enough to defeat force. It’s not clear, for instance, that the increased policing in St. James can point to people who are being sought. Do the police have targets in mind? If not, just being numerous isnt going to cut it. If villains ‘hide’ out ‘in the open’, the exercise is largely futile.

Changing minds takes time. Putting boots on the ground can be done quickly. Changing minds gives lasting results. Putting boots on the ground may give, at best, a temporary respite.

September–let’s remember: 26…Any old iron?

Twenty six is one of those numbers that seems to just be there :). It’s the atomic number of iron, so I’ll go with that connection.

Who has ever heard of Mont Nimba? It’s one of those astonishing places on Earth, being made almost totally of iron. When you pick up a piece of ‘rock’ it may be rusty looking, because…it’s iron, an estimated 6 billion tonnes of ‘ore grading 68% iron metal’. Literally, loads of iron. 

It’s located in the south-east corner of the Republic of Guinea, close to the borders with Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire. 

It’s certainly one of the world’s really picturesque places. 

But, apart from the enormous reserves of iron ore that’s there, which has been the bone of contention for years, because it’s also in a national reserve–a UNESCO National Heritage Site, and Strict Nature Reserve, it’s full of bio-diversity. It has endemic species such as the viviparous (giving live birth’) toad and chimpanzees that use stones as tools.

I went up the mountain in a four-wheeled vehicle, with my father, on his visit during my posting. It seemed that we were driving at a 45 degree angle for a long time. I remember my father wanting to take a piece of rock/iron as a souvenir, and a long discussion about whether that was allowed. He took it, and it sits in his home as a door-stop.

All a far cry, literally, from the rag and bone men who used to collect scrap iron on the streets of England, during my boyhood days.

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Any old iron?

September–let’s remember: 25, talking about my generation 

25 is not just an album by Adele. The present ‘generation’ faces what it knows and often thinks that the world started with them. Of course, those of us who are older know a little more.

I spoke to a young man about the passing of Jamaican musical great, Prince Buster, and the youth thought that ‘Prince’ was ‘Mr. Purple Rain’. I and his older colleague rolled our eyes, and sang a few stanza of Judge Dread and Blazing Fire. He went to search the Internet.

My generation is also that which contained children of the early mass migrantion to the UK. We’ve lived many different lives. I’ve had it suggested to me to write about my experiences. They are very similar to those retold in Andrea Levy’s ‘Small Island‘.

One of my stories to be told is of racism–reverse racism, even–when black Jamaicans wanted to discriminate against black Jamaican. In England, where the stereotypical story was of white landlords refusing to rent to black lodgers, I faced a black couple who did not want to rent to me, and my white English wife: “We dont want your types here!” We were rare then, but certainly the people in such relationships have become numerically significant in the UK: 1-in-10, according to the latest UK Census. My generation has had to deal with a lot and also been responsible for a lot, good and bad.

My generation has become heads of government, ministers of government, senior clergy, upstanding family members. Some, very few, have ended up in prison. Some have been arrested, for offences that are laudable, protesting for their rights and the rights of others. Some have been drunk and disorderly. Some became professional athletes, playing football for England, running for England, Wales and Great Britain. Jamaicans of my generation, who went to the UK, gave their talents mainly to the country that helped raise them. Some of my generation came back to Jamaica, to work, or to retire. Some are thinking about it.

Some of my generation, who stayed in Jamaica, built businesses, raised families and tried to make their lives good and keep their families safe. Two I know of had friends murdered–that’s very few to know. They never wanted to live abroad, even though they had visas and ready access to foreign places. Only one of them has gone into politics, and is a cousin who is now a Cabinet minister. Others of family here have given their all, and continue to do so, raising people and saving lives.

Will my generation be remembered by this generation?

When Jamaicans don’t know what they don’t know: Jobs puzzles

I was listening to Beyond The Headlines last night, when I heard the Mayor of Montego Bay complain about many problems in the city, including the level of wages for workers in the tourism sector. He argued that people felt ‘inequity’ because Jamaicans were being paid about 59% less than similar workers in other Caribbean islands.

Let’s not dispute the facts about the pay disparity. But, it’s not inequity that is the problem. It is decades of decline labour productivity, which has been going down at an average rate of about 1/12 percent since the mid-1970s. This was highlight simply in an RJR report early last year. Read it; it’s short and clear.

So, here is the problem. The same way that people who scam or sell drugs or commit other crimes seek to justify that because there’s ‘nothing going on’, is the same way that people like the Mayor see the Jamaican workers’ problems as something others have created. IT. AINT. SO!

I listened earlier to one of the MPs for St. James, Marlene Malahoo Forte, talking about how many young people in the parish are finding jobs but seem unable to adjust to what the jobs require. One young man walked off a job in a cold store room because he was too cold. The MP said the same man was ready to go to work in the USA and deal with harsh winters in the north. Let’s take her story at face value. Go figure!

So, yes, the solutions to crime in Jamaica involve doing much to address social problems, we must also understand that people need to really understand what are their problems. 

Now, in fairness to anyone who is trying to get a job and seems to be doing the best he or she can, it’s hard to accept that it’s not an easy road. But, the inability to understand the bigger realities brings with it the tendency to look for ‘solutons’ that are not right and wont last.