I’ve been everywhere, man, but did I like being there? Guinea-June 20, 2021

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Simply, back to Africa: The cultural and sociological significance of making the reverse journey across the Atlantic from the Americas should be clear. Much flows naturally from the Gulf of Guinea westward. Lucky for us to visit slave transhipment points like Ile de Goré in Sénégal to see the horrific departure point for many slaves.

Kind and gentle people: Both Guineans and expatriates living there create a rich network of caring and wonderful friends whom I’m glad to still count on today. A country that’s 90% Muslim but celebrates Easter and Christmas? Says it all, for me. People with little who’d provide you with food for days simply because that’s how visitors should be treated.

Beautiful landscape: Few places beat the simple beauty of the Fouta Djallon and its mountains, or the Nimba Mountain range, of which I can say gladly I got to the top of the mound of iron ore. Wonderful waterfalls and rivers and people who live by them.

Best work set-up: It was nice to have my own office in a separate building within the central bank complex, with my own staff, and being able to choose how it looked and worked. It was the first time to set my stamp on how it should all be, from our work ethos, to how it was decorated and who could come and go-my close contacts at any level always found my door open. Having a sofa was a dream, and as a long-time believer in naps, it got good use. But, working with a new born on the scene was better for being able to start and stop when I wanted, so going home for lunch was more norm than rarity, so was working from home most afternoons The time difference between Conakry and Washington DC really helped.

House by the sea: As accidental outcomes go, we landed on our feet finding a house destined for the proprietor of the housing complex. A lovely villa in the middle of three, with the ocean inlet being at the back fench. A new house with new garden that we could enjoy seeing grow, groomed by a gardener who cared so much. We lived and ate outside a lot and our youngest had the best days being able to run around freely, inside and out.

Dislikes

The curse of riches in plain view: Guinea should not be a poor country, based on its natural resources, water, mineral riches (gold, diamond, bauxite), fertile land, geographical location. But, politics and bad management got it there, added to its neighbours’ willingness to keep fighting within their national borders and seeing citizens flee to Guinea. Guinea should have been a leader in hydroelectric power. Instead, it was plagued by inefficient power generation for most; life couldn’t go on without a diesel generator for back-up.

Hardest country from which to fly: It was often easier to fly to Europe then on to get to a neighbouring country because Guinea has few direct flights, except to Paris and Brussels. I had to do it enough times to reach Sierra Leone to Guinea’s south. Otherwise, it was tough road drives or getting a flight on a UN helicopter.

Corruption in plain view: Wont say too much beyond suggesting some reading about major acts of malfeasance that were untaken in the name of President Conté and his supporters.

Harmattan/Sahara dust: The Harmattan is a season in West Africa, which occurs between the end of November and the middle of March. It is characterized by the dry and dusty northeasterly trade wind, of the same name, which blows from the Sahara Desert over West Africa into the Gulf of Guinea. Its residue finds its way across the Atlantic, so we still get to ‘enjoy’ it in Jamaica, with the hot air that it also brings.

The rainy season: Guinea is one of the wettest countries in West Africa. The monsoon season with a southwesterly wind lasts from June to November. It’s notable for the dampness that is everywhere, lingering for months, so that mould growing on clothes is more norm than exception. Don’t leave you home unoccipied for a couple of weeks during this time but have someone who can keep it aired. Driving rain, like hurricanes is also part of the season. That moisture, too, finds its way across the Atlantic to form the Caribbean’s annual hurricane season.

I’ve been everywhere, man, but did I like being there? USA-1-June 19, 2021

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The customer is always right: A revelation to the average person coming from the UK is that questions are hardly ever asked when customers have complaints. I got it on my interview visit to the IMF when I ordered a pizza and when it arrived the delivery man apolgized for its being late–I never realised–and had brought a 2nd pizza as compensation! Then, after an early shopping trip during a sale, a friend told me that prices had fallen further and I could go back to the store and get the difference as an extra bonus! What was this sorcery?

The South isn’t all dread for black people: You could have knocked me down with a feather if you thought I’d take a driving tour through the USA’s southern states and end up feeling that I ought to move to South Carolina. But, that’s how it looked after ending up en route from Florida to DC and stopping in Savannah and Charleston.

Football aka soccer: Were my finest hours really being involved with football (soccer) in the USA? Playing, coaching and refereeing, with mainly good memories is what it should be about. Getting licensed to coach and refereeing were never on my radar in England. That I ended up coaching girls was astonishing. That the team won its first ever tournament was dream-like, and those 9-year olds will forever have that trophy-winning moment in 1996.

The West Coast and Pacific North West: Fewer coastal areas are stranger than these, with rugged edges and massive falling trees on beaches.

Buying a car: In the UK, it could easily take weeks to complete a purchase and take away the vehicle. In the USA, it takes hours and you will leave the lot in your car. It’s not a great process, with the faux haggling, but it’s really a sign of totally different outlooks to consumerism.

Dislikes

Urban freeways: It took some getting used to how US roads and urban areas are constructed. I remember looking for a store and being able to see it from the freeway but not being able to figure out how to get to it. I went past and looped back and saw it passing below me, for several tries. Eventually, I discovered the exit and located the store. The other big difference was being told my destination was up the road and 2nd left. When I told the man I was walking, he was stunned. “Up the road” was about 10 miles along the freeway, and “2nd left” was the 2nd exit. Different strokes…

Disenfrachisement: It was fine being a foreigner with a special status, but not having the opportunity to vote isn’t fine, irrespective of what you want to do with your vote.

Absence of extensive public transport: Like many major US cities, the greater Washington area doesn’t have an extensive public transport network. DC and near suburbs are not badly covered by underground trains and buses or and overground lines cover some areas, but it’s really motorized transport that rules. Belatedly, plans to extend the Metro lines into Northern Virginia have gotten underway, but has still not reached a natural major end point at Dulles International Airport. The nearer airport, Reagan National, is easily reached by Metrorail.

Tipping: European attitudes to paying for service are completely at variance with those in the USA. It’s simplest in European countries where a bill is rounded and that’s it, and change that remains goes to the server. None of this decision making over a percentage and better still not attitude about the tip not being big enough. Pay the people the right wages!

Easter and Christmas are not one-day affairs: I’ve never worked during either Lent/Easter or Christmas, both of which are long holiday periods in the Caribbean and UK. So, these not being more than a day’s holiday, at most, was and is shock; we took the full time as holidays every year, including the 12 days of Christmas.

COVID update, Jamaica-June 18, 2021

Minister Tufton’s ‘COVID Conversations’ on June 17 updated on the latest vaccination blitz, which has seen about 11,000 people get their 2nd doses, and just under 1,000 getting first doses. Blitz operations will continue during June 19-20. About 220,000 have had at least first doses (only 6% of total population), with 52,000 having had 2nd doses and 168,000 only had their first doses of AztraZeneca vaccines.

The Minister noted, however, that supply issues may meant curbing the vaccination drive for 2nd doses, limiting them to the most vulnerable:

This warning sits oddly, coming just days after Howard Mitchell, chair of the National Health Fund was saying we should prepare for a large influx of vaccinces imminently:

COVID trends continue to improve, with fewer cases and sharply lower positivity rates, now with a 7-day average under 10 percent:

Taxi! All hail, Uber? Jamaica needs a public transport shake-up-June 18, 2021

In a brewing story, it seems that Uber has started operatiing its ride-sharing business in Jamaica. The brew is that it’s not clear this has begun with full authorization from Jamaica’s transport regulatory body. Still, several people have been excitedly sharing their early experiences with Uber-easy booking, lower fares, apparently safe door-to-door service, on time, etc. Most views are that this is a needed shake-up in the Jamaican public transport environment, which is plagued by an inefficient and debt-ridden public bus operation in the Kingston Metropolitan Area, by a range of mainly crazed and often lawless minibuses and taxis in the same area, plus similar private operators in the rest of the country.

Uber has been a disrupter whereever it has begun operations. I can’t see things being different in Jamaica.

Simply put, in Jamaica, minibuses and taxis are the bane of many people’s lives and despised and distrusted in great measure. Many believe this private sector activity is a cover for much criminal activity and safety issues, especially for females are a major concern. But, the partial sigh of relief heard in Jamaica this week made me think about what taxis and taxi drivers represent in other countries. On a scale of 0 (horrible) to 10 (wonderful), where do some stand?

Jamaica (0): Taxis/minibuses-worst-driven vehicles on the roads; taxi drivers-often referred to a ‘germs’; despised distrusted, though on-demand services can be good. Situation worsened by rampant illegal or not-fully authorized operators, without designated licence plates-commonly called ‘robots’. Too often, we find taxis and minbuses as part of accidents or other infractions, including fights with police or other law enforcers. They are often over crowded and generally are not for single person use. They generally observe few if any rules of the road, stop anywhere to pick up and drop off, and tend to make parking ‘stands’ where they like, especially at/around petrol stations. Things like meters and identification credentials are as rare as a vehicle that is pristine and inviting. No distinguishing features, other than red licence plate for authorized operators-no taxi signs, no standard colours but should carry a chequered stripe (Jamaica used to have yellow cabs and cabs with checkered marking into the 1960s.) Now, most are idenfiable as white Probox cars. Passengers can sit anywhere, including in the trunk/boot. Taxi operations are cut-throat and driver behaviour reflects a common outcome for such situations-survival of the fittest. (We’ll put aside the issues of ownership and whether association with law enforcement or criminals are key factors in how businesses are run.)

England (10): London is renowned for its ‘black’ taxis and to be a driver means passing the toughest street knowledge test (‘The Knowledge’) that requires about 2 years of training to master how to get between any two points in an area of about 25,000 streets, whic requires all cabbies to navigate between any two points in the city entirely from memory. Created in 1865 for horse-drawn carriages, the Knowledge has survived the automobile and London’s explosive growth into a global city. These days, though, technology is presenting the Knowledge with new challenges, with GPS commonly in use by other types of carriers (including Uber). I’ve never know taxis to be driven as if by Kamikazes, or being serial law breakers. Fares are never an issue as all rides are metered. Private for-hire services are also common all over the UK and are generally also of good service quality and safety. No seat is available for passengers in the front, which has space for luggage, and a glass separator is between driver and passengers. Black taxis in London are custom-made for passenger carriage. (Technically, it’s against the law for you to yell “Taxi!” to get their attention. If you see a cab with a lit sign, just hold out your arm to signal them.)

Germany (10): My first encounter with German taxis left me stunned as a shiny, clean Mercedes pulled up as I waited at a taxi rank. Courteous drivers, with credentials visibly displayed and meter working. Germany is well-organized and stopping anywhere is not the norm, instead uning designated places, including bus stops or taxi stands are stations, hotels etc.

Turkey (3): I was kidnapped by a taxi driver at Istanbul airport. Enough said. When I visited Ankara, I took taxis to get to meetings and was often stunned that my drivers saw no problem disregarding basic road regulations to get me to my destinations. I’ve been driven at speed the wrong way down one-way streets, and a few trips along sidewalks to make the ‘road’ passable.

Brazil (7): All the good things one wants to see, including single colour for taxis, signs, meters, driver ID. Our drivers were always polite and no issues or apparent risks with how they transported people and luggage. Good at respecting requests for later/another pick-up.

USA (8): New York City and its famous yellow cabs are reliable, safe and generally not problematic. All good features like meters, driver ID, vehicles that are fit-for-purpose. Washington DC has several taxi companies operating within the jurisdiction; generally not allowed to operate outside except for trips to airports outside the jurisdiction. Maryland and Virginia have a couple of reliable large taxi companies that operate with same general geogrpahical rules as DC. Dulles Airport is special, as only certian ‘Dulles Flyer’ taxis can routinely carry from the airport (but cannot routinely take fares back to airport after drop off).

Thailand (6): Tuk-tuks are sole mode of public transport in Bangkok and other cities in Thailand. Tuktuks are the successor to the earlier cycle rickshaws, known in Thai as “Sam Lor” (literally ‘three wheels’). Tuktuks are the successor to the earlier cycle rickshaws, known in Thai as “Sam Lor” (literally ‘three wheels’). Sam Lors were introduced to Thailand in 1933, although shortly they were banned from the main streets due to safety reasons. Fun to ride in. Safe. Multicoloured and easy to see. No AC! 🙂

None of these other places in industrial countries have private minibus operators, like Jamaica. Public bus services are the other form of mass public transport on roads.

I’ve noted before that Jamaica’s current situation replicates a stage often seen in industrial countries. It precedes a massive shake up in road transport operations that often has cut-throat operation, including violence to protect routes.

I’ve been everywhere, man, but did I like being there? England-2-June 17, 2021

Having started this little retrospective, it occurred to me that England merits another visit, because I could look at a second phase based on my choosing to go back there, from Wales. I’ll try to focus on things that were different, after returing in 1980, including being a home owner and worker, not passing through the education system. Before leaving for Wales, we’d lived in a leafy north London inner suburb, Muswell Hill, less accessible for being atop a steep hill and abutting heavy woodland. It has been descried as a ‘genteel urban village’. It’s near Alexandra Park, which has playgrounds, woods, and a boating lake, as well as the hilltop Alexandra Palace, a 19th-century edifice with panoramic city views. It’s also close to walking trails in Highgate Wood. It had great access to the main roads heading north or the circular routes around London. It had no Tube or train station, only buses.

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House renovation: I spent about 7 years working on our first house, in Tottenham, built in 1896. (In constrast to Muswell Hill, which was to the west, Tottenham is hard scrabble north London urban grittiness; a sparwling area.) The house had great structural features, like so many terraced houses built in the 19th and early 20th century, of which London is full. It was a labour of love: rewiring, replumbing, putting in central heating radiators, new bathroom, new roof, resetting sash windows, sanding floors and doors, stripping walls and replastering, new painting and wallpaper establishing a garden from scratch (digging and laying a lawn), and putting up fences. We were doing the yuppie things. Work was evenings and weekends, with friends helping, major construction jobs done by contractors (not without problems). But, life went on, other than a decision to not have a child until the renovations were done.

Living within our means: I came back to London to work at the Bank of England. My job at the central bank gave access to cheap loans but we decided to borrow what could be sustainable if such loans weren’t available. We weren’t tied to the Bank, therefore. We looked at houses in inner suburbs, but the fashionable areas weren’t in our reach. Tottenham offered lots of bonuses, including being close enough to my office to walk during transport strikes. ☹️

End of pub restrictions: Having grown-up with the tighter rules for when pubs could open and who could go into them, it was a sea change to have looser rules: extended permissible opening hours for public houses in 1988, to 11am to 11pm; previously pubs were not generally allowed to open between 3:00pm and 5:30pm. All those days, as a child, when my parents were in a pub and I was seated in the car with a bag of crisps and a soft drink 🙂

Walks in parks and woods: London has some of the world’s best parks in its centre and all over, and is surrounded by woodland in what is now part of its inner suburbs. You usually don’t have to travel far to be able to stroll in one of such areas, all year round. Sanity is ensured with that sort of environment and opportunity.

Liking London more and living through major changes: Most of my friends from university stayed in or around London after graduation, forming a base of friendships that could continue as we developed careers and started families. London was our home and where we spent most time, criss-crossing for meals at homes or socializing in pubs and other eating places. Covent Garden reopened as a shopping area in 1980, and because one of our go-to places as its location and activities appealed more, funny for those of us who’d grown up knowing it as a bustling flower market into the mid-1970s.

Dislikes

Rush-hour on public transport: Though I grew up taking trains, Tube and buses all over London as a student, and took all aspects of it in my stride, once I started working, those means of transport became some of the banes of my life. As you age, hours of standing with jostling people at close-quarters has less and less appeal. Driving to work was never a real option most days, so it was grin and bear it. (Now, when I visit London, I take most public transport journeys with a good spirit, especially as I rarely have to use them during rush hour.)

Traffic: Our road was a cut-through between two main roads and used by heavy lorries, with near-constant heavy and fast flows. It was a real experience in the debiliating impact of traffic noise. We escaped the worst by spending much time in the rear areas of the house, including the garden, and using the front during times when traffic was calmer. But, even at night, the sound of passing traffic rarely ceased. We battled with the council for years to curb this, and by the time we left London (1990), measures such as speed bumps and narrowing were being put in place. Many London residential areas have suffered from traffic as motorized vehicles increased and roads were mostly inadequate for the heavier volumes.

Cross-Channel travel, before the Chunnel was open: I’ve written before about the trials of ferry crossings. With more money in our pockets, more travel was possible, but at the cost of more Channel crossings. Getting there was great, but getting there was often horrible.

Underground closing: The London Underground was infamous for closing down at night, in a city that never went to sleep. It was partly an issue of noise abatement rules. It forced us to drive when we could easily have used public transport, and have to limit drinking to stay the right sight of laws 🙂 We were not lucky enough to live in London when the Night Tube and London Overground Night Service first provided services to travellers through the night on Friday and Saturday nights on the Central, Jubilee, Northern, Piccadilly, and Victoria lines, and a short section of the London Overground’s East London line. The service began on the night of Friday 19 August 2016, providing 24 hour service on these routes from Friday morning to Sunday evening each weekend. It was suspended from Friday 20 March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and will not restart until at least 2022.

Mystery floods: Our house was at the top of a hill, so how did our cellar periodically fill with water? We had every agency that has anthing to do with water come to check for leaks etc and never got an answer for the source of this problem. The water was never brackish, suggesting it was coming from some treated source. Our cellar was a storage area, but things had to be raised off the ground. It was where wine was stored, but always having to check that things were not going to be floating up the stairs. Utterly bizarre!

I’ve been everywhere, man, but did I like being there? Wales-June 16, 2021

I headed to North Wales for my first job, after my university studies, to Mold (Yr Wyddgrug, in Welsh), the first main town, heading west from Chester in England. It has a population of about 10,000, tiny by contrast to London (about 6 million). It is the county town and administrative seat of Flintshire County Council, as it was of Clwyd from 1974 to 1996: I arrived there in 1978.

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Snowdonia and hills and valleys: The town was in the shadow of the Snowdon range of mountains and summer evening walks to the top of Moel Famau (about 1800 feet) were always a treat.

Living in the town centre and walking to work: Though housing was an early issue, starting with a holiday let with a corrugated plastic roof (!) in a coastal resort village called Ffynnongroyw, we then got a council house a block from the town centre, in a cul-de-sac; the high street was less than 5 minutes away. I walked to and from work most days, about 20 minutes, and often came home for lunch. The house had only coal fire places for heating. What else in a mining area?

Lock-ins, Sunday drinks, and early drinking: The first time I heard “Last orders!” but saw no one move, I was stunned. By the time my Dad came to visit and have the same reaction, I was a lock-in (after-hours) regular. Order was always kept by having local police as part of the party 🙂 The obverse of this was being able to go to our ‘local’ after home football matches and be let in for ‘early’ drinking. Sometimes, we needed to throw stones at the upstairs window of the landlord to be let in. 🙂

Mold was in a ‘wet’ county, that is, pubs were open every day. It was adjacent to Gwynedd, which was ‘dry’ on Sundays, with pubs closed. So, each Sunday, our pubs were full of those fleeing their dry state 🙂 It was funny to see the pubs near the border jammed packed with thirty folk 🙂

Welsh ‘Labradors’ 🙂 We bought our first puppy in Wales, a ‘Labrador’, whom we named Bella. She turned out to be a mongrel, but mainly Labrador; all came clear as her snout lengthened not remain stubby. She loved digging and was often found with dirt flying out of a fresh hole as she burrowed her way next door or buried bones.

Being the talk of town: Mold had two football teams in different leagues. Win and good things came our way. Our local butcher was always good for a nice pound of sausages after a win 👏🏾👏🏾

Dislikes

Impact of Thatcherism: Mine closures and unemployed friends. It was hard to deal with months of doubt and sense of shame some had at not being able to earn their living. But, we rallied around those in need, as best we could.

Football in osbcure villages: The weirdest had to be Bala, towards the western part of Gwynedd, with far more sheep than people. Good thing I had learned some Welsh, which helped me with my own team mates, but more so in the hostile environment of rural Wales, where it was the first language, much of the time. It was always hostile, not least because it was sometimes tinged with a long-standing distaste for the English (and coming from the north-eastern end of the country, to which many English people from Merseyside had migrated made that easier to apply). We usually arrived changed, played, and left as soon as we could after the final whistle; no drinks, lads. We’d often had to play with crowd who weren’t afraid to tap ankles of players as they encroached on the side-lines. Not nice times.

Cutting bus services: It was the job I was assigned to do, but that didn’t make it easier to see the impact of rural life of dwindling services provided by Crosville.

People thinking all Welsh people are alike: South Walians are quite different that those in the north. The south was really all about coal mining, with its valley towns. Accents and life style are different and love of sport is different; the south is rugby central, football has at least an equal claim in the north, with Merseyside influences strong. Add to that being a Jones in the land of the Joneses: speaks for itself, with the added twist of being a black man who’d learned to speak some Welsh 🙂

Blizzards: Mold was cut off twice while we lived there, as snow storms blocked roads. The upside was a quick community effort to ‘dig out’ the town and cars that were buried in snow drifts. One night, coming from Chester, the storm had been so bad, my car couldn’t proceed and I opted to walk the remaining few miles to Mold. Wise? Well, the next day, I had to dig out a car covered to the roof with snow.

I’ve been everywhere, man, but did I like being there? England-June 15, 2021

I’ve had the good fortune to live in several countries, plus travelling to a lot more for extended periods. I like to check myself by keeping my situation in context. Living in Jamaica for the past 8 years, has brought me face to face with the realities of life, here. It’s lots of negatives but lots of positives. So, I’m going to try to find 5 of each, here, and in each place I’ve lived. Not living in each at the same time brings up issues of the realities of the specific time.

So, over coming days, I’ll try to trawl my memories to find things I really liked and those that drove me mad. I’ll go chronologically: England, Wales, USA-1, Guinea, Barbados, USA-2, Jamaica. Here goes.

I never chose to go to England, in contrast to almost everywhere else that follows, but did that matter?

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London: so many great place in this city and things to do and find with every trip. I know it like the back of my hand, and can spot most general areas in TV shows or films. Nothing beats sights of the RIver Thames, all of whose (13) bridges I crossed many times, or crossed using one of the few tunnels at the eastern end.

Fish and chips; pie and mash: Fish and chips only taste right served in paper (not newspaper, necessarily) and eaten with the fingers, not on a plate with a knife and fork. Must have plenty of salt and vinegar. Haddock preferred to cod.

Pie and mash is traditional East London fare, with beef mince pies made freshly on site, served with mashed potatoes, and doused with liquor (a parsley sauce made from boiling eels—the core of the ‘eel and pie shop’, where this is served. Oddly, two great outlets by an East London icon, Cooke’s were near where I lived (Shepherd’s Bush & Hammersmith). Now, hard to find in London, but they can be. A must-eat each visit.

English beer, served by pump from a cask, preferably wooden. No great preferences for region of origin, though I love London brewers Fuller’s and Young’s, and rural brews like Boddington’s, St. Austell’s, Marston’s and Greene King. (I’ll deal with Welsh beer, in due course.)

Riding on buses and trains: Whether for short commutes or longer journeys, it’s hard to beat a ride on one of the major means of public transport. As a boy, I used to love jumping on and off London red buses that had open platforms at the back.

Going to football matches: Impossible to try to explain the emotions that come from watching live games being played, including pre-match rituals (pubs, meeting mates, walking to the ground, finding your spot-better when fans stood, not sat-cheering and wailing and crying, after the match). Try to catch a game on every trip to London.

Dislikes

Strikes: Labour disputes are part of British socioeconomic DNA: they’re meant to be disruptive and often are, whether it’s transport, miners, or garbage collectors.

Customs officers: This is throwback to the days when the UK was not part of the EU, and journeys across the English Channel from ‘the Continent’ involved having vehicles checked to see if duty-free limits had been exceeded. Even when all was in order, these people always managed to make me feel guilty. When I was over the limits, the sweating would be profuse 🙂

Post codes: I can’t recall who won the bid to organize mail around postal codes for smaller georgraphical areas, as opposed to the simple designation of larger areas, but something about the alpha-numeric system chosen, eg N17 6TH, seemed clunky, versus numerical systems common across most of Europe.

Flat, warm fizzy drinks: Back in the day, when we did not own a fridge, this was one of the banes of my life-the once opened bottle of ‘pop’, waiting to go flat, and getting warmer. 🙂

No refunds: The biggest shock I had when first living in the USA was the ready acceptance that a returned item was to be met with a return of money or credit to buy something else, no questions asked. In the UK, it was always like the ‘Spanish Inquisition’ taking something back to a retailer. “What wrong with it?” Depending on the reply, it could be a frustrating return home with the toaster that would not toast. 😦 Things have since changed.

Brief thoughts on a small island being a big nation-June 14, 2021

A brief exchange with a friend yesterday sparked a few thoughts I’ve had for a long time: they concern Jamaica’s diaspora.

My basic view is that Jamaica’s governments have not really known what to do with the mass of Jamaican migrants and their offspring, since the major outflow of the late-1940s onwards.

Here’s the picture I see. Jamaica has an island population of about 3 million. Around the world, mainly in the UK, USA and Canada, there are people born in Jamaica and their generations of offspring, some also born in Jamaica but many more born overseas, which total about the same number. Statistics on that disapora group are a bit fuzzy as they include those born in Jamaica and identifying as Jamaican in some way. (I’m not sure if the data also nuance those born in Jamaica who no longer identify with the country, for a variety of reasons.) But, let’s leave with the idea that ‘Jamaicans’ number some 6 million, worldwide. We know people happily talk about Jam-Brits, Jamaican-Americans etc.

That global total includes a spectrum of people who wish they could have nothing more to do with Jamaica-sadly, some of those actually live in Jamaica, and do much to make life miserable for those who happily live on the island. The other end of the spectrum has people who are not in Jamaica but wish to have as close a link as possible with the island. That leaves a lot of space for indifferent views and views that bounce between the ends of the spectrum.

Simply put, some of those who have left Jamaica only see their future abroad, and Jamaica receding in the rear view mirror doesn’t bother them. They may have no ill-will toward the island, but don’t see active links with it as part of their future. Nothing wrong with that. Make the most of where you are is not a bad principle: feed your energies fully into building the best life you can where you are.

Others who have left, try to keep alive the links they have; this includes supporting relatives, friends and organizations left behind in Jamaica. Alumni groups are a fertile area for support. For some, it means keeping an active physical connection by visiting the island, periodically, alone or with family. Some harness that connection by making claims on the land, through investment in real estate, and by investment in private and public financial assets (especially if they believe recent stock market trends as true reflections of future directions).

So, we can see a significant flow of real and financial assets coming to Jamaica from its diaspora. Much of that we can measure through remittances. But, much cannot be measured so clearly, eg when people visit as tourists and spend substantial sums connected with such travel. That became a bit clearer during the pandemic as we’ve seen ‘remittance’ flows surge and part of that is ‘deferred tourism’ spending as travel restrictions stopped journeys to the island but financial transfers could be made. Ironically, we now have more such flows feeding into measured systems, such as returns from money transfer institutions that previously bypassed such systems. (Economists know that the balance of payments data contain miscellaneous or unidentified flows, whose origins aren’t easily traced, much of which represents goods, services and financial capital that slip through measurement systems, legally or illegally, but account for movements in international reserves, almost as residual items.)

Those flows from overseas can be assessed in other ways to see if they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Why bad? Some of that flow is related to criminal activities and I’ll take the view of that being bad as it cuts into a wholesome national fibre that I’d prefer see as less favourable to criminals. Others can disagree on that, not least for simple reasons such as crime creates income of jobs for some who would otherwise have neither. But, my view is not supportive of flows that support imports of guns, drugs and other things that support violent crime, the negative impact of which have generally been to make us poorer. We can debate this aspect for ages.

However, my essential concern is that the diaspora holds substantial assets the ‘origin’ country can exploit. A big part of that asset pool is also human capital.

For the most part, that exploitation hasn’t happened in many systematic ways. I’ve been to diaspora conferences and heard yearning for investments and proposals made and time passed and little to show for the bright ideas. We’ve lost years and money and human talent, in bundles. We’ve not learned much from the successful exploitation of diasporal links shown by the likes of Israel, India, Ireland, Ghana, Nigeria, or countries dotted around the world.

Often, belatedly, Jamaica realises it has a pool of untapped assets in the form of those abroad who were born in Jamaica or have generational links to Jamaica. That’s most evident in sport, where the pool of talent developed and developing in industrial countries makes for a potent addition to national resources. So, we’ve seen attempts to tap that for football, where great talent exists, though much of the best sports people tried to see if they could make it higher as members of national teams in their host countries. Ironically, we see that some of the best talent on show in those countries have clear Jamaican links. But, representing Jamaica has not often been their first choice. Alongside that, is the suspicion or fear that their sense of commitment to Jamaica will not be as strong as those born and raised here. Across a range of sports and countries, I’ve rarely seen low commitment at representational level from so-called ‘imports’. Other problems may exist, including lingustic or cultural differences, or financial considerations, that may only become obvious once people of mixed origins get together.

On the sporting plane, by contrast, Jamaica’s riches from those who have not left the island have been clearest in track and field. In other sports, the untapped diaspora talent is being tapped more and giving positive results. Our men’s and women’s football teams are good examples. But, it’s also evident in less common sports, where Jamaica could excel, anyway, if committed to them nationally, eg rugby or lacrosse.

But, we ought to be looking beyond sport. We also need to be looking in more structured ways. We’ve lost many potential investors by not having a clear policy or instrument to put in front of those now living abroad.

Diaspora bonds are issued by a country to its expatriates. These bonds allow developing countries in need of financing to look to expats (mainly in wealthy countries) for support. Diaspora bonds offer migrants (and offsprings) discounts on government debt from their home countries. India and Israel have successfully issued diaspora bonds:

  • Diaspora bonds are often used for infrastructure projects or crisis relief in developing countries, where more resources above humanitarian aid are necessary.
  • Diaspora bonds have typically been successful with countries such as Israel and India, where expats have strong patriotism and knowledge of their home economy’s prospects.
  • However, these bonds typically carry low yields because of the strong patriotic duties felt by expats to their home countries.
  • Migrants typically receive a discount on the debt from their home countries.
  • Issuance can prove to be challenging at times, especially as migrants have fled oppressive governments in the past.

Many issues need to be resolved when engaging diasporal interests, some of them need time-consuming and individual negotiations, which may make the gains less clear relative to the costs that have to be incurred. Simple case. When, say, a star performer with generational links is sought as an investor that may involve high-level discussion because of their new wealth, status, and other interests that may not sit well with Jamaican interests. With the best will in the world, Jamaica’s negative image abroad can be a deterrent to diaspora interest irrespecitive of any strong patriotism.

We may also need to understand that quid pro quo may quickly rear its head: it’s business and the bottom line won’t be far from the thoughts of bigger investors. We can throw scorn at how they appear lacking in charity, but that’s too bad.

One of the ironies that many see, including me, is when, where and how countries like Jamaica seek to ‘claim’ their diaspora. As I noted with my friend yesterday, with Raheem Sterling, he got ‘national’ recognition (most recently, gaining an MBE in the latest Queen’s birthday honours) from his adopted country well before any such recognition came from the land of his birth. We can discuss why or if we care about such things, but it’s still a fact. Do people feel slighted by such things? Maybe, even if not personally, there’s always the sense of resentment that can come from the entourage.

I don’t see reasons to believe that Jamaica’s engagement with its diaspora will change any time soon. I suspect many have drawn that conclusion over the years and done what they feel fits them best. We can’t prescribe patriotism and how its manifested.

When my parents migrated to England in the 1960s they never thought they would become English. I’m not sure what they thought their son would become, as he grew up in England, whether he would identify more with the new host or the land of birth. This is a common dilemma that swings many ways. I never thought of myself as British (notwithstanding the odd designation of that as a relic of colonialism). No amount of years in England changed that. However, my affinities span support for Britain and/or Jamaica in some situations. If you think code switching is interesting in how people speak, try wrapping your head aroumd having no issue supporting fervently two countries, maybe in the same sport, maybe over different sports, say. When I was growing up in England, I was on track to represent Great Britain (GB) in athletics and England in football. Did anyone in/from Jamaica think they should tap me to be part of its national set up? Let’s say the messages ‘got lost in the mail’. It didn’t matter to me. I looked around my peers who had parents from the Caribbean or were born there and then set on tracks (literally) to excel and represent the new host country. None of my generation got called up for Jamaica, but many went on to represent and win big for GB, England, etc. and are now ‘national’ heroes there. Then, someone would add or note that they were ‘Jamaican born’ or had ‘Jamaican parents’, etc. No slight was meant, and I think few, if any took, umbrage. Britain was where life was being made. Add to that how migrants stop sounding like the countries of their birth and you’ll understand easily that this is a fuzzy area. I still giggle when I hear Wes Morgan (born in Nottingham, England) speaking in his clear English Midlands accent as captain of Jamaica’s football team. He’s described as a ‘Jamaican’ footballer because of his national playing affiliation. By contrast, Raheem Sterling, born in St Andrew, Jamaica, is described as an ‘English’ footballer, for similar reasons.

Some of this mix-up and blend-up gets bizarre, especially when people dig far back to find the connections they want to exploit. I don’t have any issues with people tracing back generations to find what they want. I understand, however, that it’s also part of processeses that then raised issues of nationality and patriotism that are not easy to overcome, personally or in the minds of others.

I’m not proposing any solutions to an area that I think is complex, individually and collectively. But, I’d like to see and hear more thought given to how and when and where we want to embrace our ‘nation’, broadly defined.

Wright in the middle?-June 13, 2021

Today’s Gleaner has a nice article (reproduced below) by Erica Virtue on the literal seating position of former-JLP MP George Wright and where he should sit in Parliament. He’s ‘former’ because the JLP didn’t expel him but let him leave gracelessly. He’s now an ‘Independent’, not elected as such, but deemed so by fact. He’s not part of the ruling party, anymore, but the Opposition doesn’t want to claim him. That’s the nub of the matter. He’s no one’s friend, like the child on the bus that no one wants to set beside-‘Smelly George’, he might be called.

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Only a resignation as an elected representative can remove George Wright from his new seat on the Opposition benches in George William Gordon House, despite how unwelcome his presence may be for members on that side.

The Westmoreland Central member of parliament, who has been embroiled in controversy after the surfacing of a video in which a man was seen beating a woman, surprised Opposition members when he sat on their benches last Tuesday on an early return to the Parliament, two weeks before his granted leave of absence expired.

Now, trade unionist Helene Davis-Whyte says that even if Wright was expelled from the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and had not resigned from the House, he would still be placed on the opposition benches.

“It is a creature of the Westminster system of government. But if ever there was need for constitutional changes, this situation recommends it. He is not under the whip of the governing party, and neither that of the Opposition. But if he is not one of the majority of members that form the Government, then he is opposition. Based on the news release of his resignation, he supports the [governing] party’s policies and programmes, so this is really a farce … ,” Davis-Whyte said last week.

“Look, the situation has tied everybody’s hands – police, Government and Opposition … ,” she said while calling for constitutional changes to allow for the recall of representatives.

Former Prime Minister Bruce Golding championed calls for recall and impeachment legislation during his days as head of the National Democratic Movement (NDM). In 2011, he pushed to have a proposed statute tabled in Parliament that same year, but it fell off the table and was never reintroduced until People’s National Party (PNP) President Mark Golding reintroduced it recently.

While accepting the constitutional provision, Mark Golding said Wright should sit among those whose policies he supports.

“George Wright supports the governing party’s objectives and programmes. Therefore, he can be expected to vote with the majority and should sit with them also,” said Golding, a lawyer.

Untenable seating arrangement

Leader of Opposition Business in the House Anthony Hylton said Wright’s seating arrangement was untenable.

“I have no idea who or what George Wright is at this moment. He has not spoken about anything. He is not a part of the Government or Opposition caucuses. The seating arrangement is not a constitutional matter. It is a matter for discussion between the government and opposition business leaders in the House, and we have not had that discussion yet,” said Hylton last week.

“We have to discuss it for good order. If not, he may well sit in the front benches of the Opposition, which is reserved for senior members and spokespersons, and vote with the Government. It is not just for the constitutional provisions, but for good order. This is untenable and antagonistic in the least,” warned Hylton.

Discussions will take place among himself, the Clerk to the House, and Leader of Government Business Edmund Bartlett, said Hylton, given that “he cannot be seen as opposition”.

“Our view is that he is neither independent nor opposition,” stated Hylton.

Moving him would require the House Speaker “to break new grounds, and she has already shown a willingness to do so with her ruling on the interpretation of the divide vote”.

Environmentalist and Gleaner columnist Peter Espeut said the Opposition now has a spy for the Government on their benches and over whom they have no control.

“This is a very nice arrangement for the Government. He resigns [from the ruling JLP] and is now seated on the other side, which gives the impression that they have taken action. But, of course, they did not take any action. He said he resigned. There are no three sides in the House. So, if you are not on the Government side, you are on the Opposition. And if we had three parties forming the membership of the House, the majority forming the Government would be on one side and the rest on the opposition benches,” said Espeut in an interview.

Jamaicans have not elected anyone outside of the JLP and PNP to the Lower House since Independence, and Espeut said the situation was as technical as it was formal.

“What is the laughing stock of Parliament is that the JLP did not expel him but allowed him to claim he resigned. Really, he should sit at the back of the opposition side and not beside Mikael Phillips, definitely not within their benches,” Espeut suggested. “The JLP has chosen not to expel him or force his resignation as the elected representative. It’s evident to many that the JLP still has 49 members in the House.

“The problem on our hands is that the JLP did nothing to censure him, except to move him from its caucus. What is revealing, though, is that the women in the governing side in the House did not beat the benches in disgust to have him removed from among them. They chose to be JLP more than women,” stated Espeut.

Former House Speaker Delroy Chuck says there is no need to change the current arrangement.

“If you are not among the governing party members, then you sit on the opposition side. All independent members and opposition members sit apart from the governing side. It is generally accepted, and there is no need for any adjustment to the Standing Orders,” Chuck, the current minister of justice, said.

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com

Time waits for no one, except Jamaicans think it does-June 12, 2021

Jamaicans, amongst people in the Caribbean, have a notorious reputation for poor time-keeping; it sometimes seems like a national sport, how badly it can be done. But, it’s not just about lateness, on which, much angst has been shared. We see it at the highest levels in our society, which tells us how much it’s been normalized. When was the last time a sitting in Parliament began on time?

But, our elastic view of time extends to what time concepts mean. Jamaicans understand that “Soon come…” as an answer to “When?” means ‘don’t look for me in this lifetime’. So, don’t bank on workmen coming soon, if that’s the reply you’d been given.

Jamaicans clealry don’t know what it means to other people when they say “I’ll be there, shortly.” I’m collecting newspapers for someone and told them that a boxful was ready. I got this answer at the beginning of the week; it’s now Saturday, and still no sight. Now, ‘shortly’ to me means within a few hours, at most. If I can’t meet that kind of deadline, I feel I need to advise the waiter that I will not be coming soon and give another time frame.

Jamaicans see no need to help you readjust your schedules because they have failed to show up!

Well, I deal with that, now. I keep things for, say, 2 days, then I find another use or user.

It’s less problematic with non-perishables, like newspapers. But, with perishables, perish the thought that your ‘soon’ extends beyond a few days. The watermelon I offered could have shed seeds and started to grow anew in the weeks since someone said they would come for their piece. But, like water off a duck’s back, many Jamaicans are purely ho-hum about not showing up.

In England, there’s the phrase ‘being late for your own funeral’. It’s not a phrase I’ve ever heard a Jamaican use in anger. I wonder why.