Canadians, pacific

Many Jamaican stories go untold.

Canada has had a long and positive relationship with Canada. For many Jamaican families that is evidenced by connections with the agricultural work program, or through education in Canada, or through banking and finance. Many Jamaicans have met visiting tourists from Canada, some of whom may be family relatives, after waves of migration.

I bumped into a piece of that connection, yesterday. I was in Montego Bay, having offered to drive a group of caddies there to play in their national golf tournament. Before that started, a friend and I played nine holes and had a good chat. His son is a budding pro and is trying to make it in Europe. My friend and his wife are trying to support that from afar, but with some efforts the involve travelling to Europe. Along the way, we played some decent golf. We saw a few groups of tourists playing, one set seemed to be in a competition.

After we had played, the caddies were about to set off, at noon, a bit behind schedule, but mainly due to the tourists needing to clear the course.

As we wandered around the course watching those I knew well perform, W
we noticed a group of people driving around in a set of golf buggies. That seemed odd. First, they were white men, watching a group of black Jamaican golfers. Second, they had no golf clubs on their carts. Third, they did not have cameras, so did not appear to be media doing a PR event. They did not look like scouts, but… They were keenly paying attention, and I assumed they knew some of the players.

I then took a break, when my friend got hungry and decided to head home to his wife and lunch. A group of the tourists came by, all hot, sweaty and thirsty. We got chatting. They were visiting from Canada. Our tourism season is getting back into gear and ‘snowbirds’ are a common sight at this time of year. They all looked as red as maple leaves in autumn. They were playing golf every day in the mornings. We shared a few jokes and a few pleasantries, then they headed off in their bus.

Another Jamaican member of the club, whom I had played with before, came by. He was dressed for golf. However, he was not playing, having taken his car in for repairs and now waiting to hear when it would be ready. He lives in Canada and comes down for the colder months…one of ‘our’ snow birds. He wanted to watch the tournament, so grabbed a buggy. Off we went.

We caught up with the groups and took up a good viewpoint to see several of them playing. Along came a group of the ‘followers’, one driving a refreshment cart, that looked empty. “Pity that doesn’t have any drinks,” I noted. The driver puffed on his cigar. “It does. We have beer,” he said with a smirk. Voila! Not so cold Red Stripe was in one side. We took gladly the bottles offered and got talking. They told us they were the sponsors of the tournament and we’re just offering some good cheer to the players.

Product placement moment, thanks to the sponsors

They went on to explain that they were part of a bigger group, and a bunch of them were golfers and had played earlier, but had gone back to rest. I said that I had met some of them, earlier. We parted company as they went to watch others play. We stayed with our groups for a while longer.

But, I was getting hungry and also needed to meet a friend who was going to travel back to town with me. We headed to the club house. Up rolled the beer wagon. They were very generous because they were ready to just put the remaining beers on the bar for whoever wanted them. They saw me sitting on a bench and came over. They asked if I wanted to go with the to their house for a chance to cool off. They also offered the same to the tournament director, whom I know. He’d just bought his lunch, so declined. I presumed that their relationship with the club meant they were less likely to kidnap me, so took up their offer. I drove my own car and we went to a large house near Half Moon. Nice, I thought.

A large tanker with gas was pulling in as we arrived. I could guess the house needed a lot of fuel. We entered and I thought I was in a frat house, as men were everywhere–in the pool, on laptops, smoking cigars, drinking beer, eating chips. I recognized some of those I’d seen earlier at the club. My host did the introductions. Life went back to normal.

My host explained that his family has been visiting Jamaica since the 1950s, and his father had begun the caddies tournament. Over the years, they’d gotten to know many of the caddies and the relationship was close. I explained that I’d brought some players up from Kingston.

Luke, new driver in hand and ready to hit the 360 yard mark.
Drinking and driving rules apply to the golf course?
Rhino, wearing a shirt that looks remarkably similar to one I own 🙂 Posing like he wants to be in GQ.

I could confirm that the players were appreciative of the opportunity they had to play. The caddies who work on the north coast can do well from their tourist visitors, who predominate; those in Kingston have a harder time, with local members being the bulk of the players. The flow of US dollars can be liberal from the pockets of the tourists, as I’d seen first hand earlier in the day. But, that wasn’t my issue, now.

We talked about Jamaica and how tourists from North America often see little of life and culture on the island. My host took the opportunity to change that by driving around and showing his friends sides of the island less seen and experienced. He had gotten comfortable over the years, and understood how that was not an instant change. Curried goat? Plantain porridge? Mannish water? Steamed fish…with the head still on? Things we may take for granted, but high on the list of bizarre food for many foreigners.

It was a cozy hour. My friend called me and told me she could not find me at the club. I explained what I was doing. I thanked my host and scooted up the road to Cinnamon Hill. My friend had come up to watch the Reggae Boyz on Sunday, and had spent time with a cousin eating fish. She brought me a large fried Escoveitch fish, wrapped in foil. It was still piping hot. I decided to try to eat it and take her to see some of the golf. I explained my little diversion. The fish was great. It hit the spot, after seven hours without a proper meal. We followed the final holes of our good friends.

The tournament ended and the golfers trailed in for their late lunch. The Canadians rolled In, with more beer and cigars. They went around slapping backs and laughing. We met up, again. The caterers had made sorrel, and my friend and I were enjoying a glass. We explained to some of the Canadians what it was. “Sarin?” one said. “Sorrow?” he asked. They were having trouble with the syllables and the and the sounds. But, they liked the taste. They liked the idea of it being sampled with rum, white or dark. They called over their group: “Try this!” They sampled and sipped. They smiled and drank more.

The prize giving started and my host from earlier took centre stage. He was brief, though, and handed over duties to his group of friends to hand over the prizes.

Mark, one of the Canadian sponsors, thanking all for making the tournament a success.
Easton Williams won 2nd prize in his senior category, and helped teach Canadians how to say ‘sorrel’.

Hail fellows, well met.

Mark and Carl with the Beer-mobile

Go, Canada!

Branded Jamaica

If I believe what I read yesterday, I would think that some Jamaican musical artiste is “appalled and disappointed”. Reports indicated that her appearance at the Rastafesta event in Canada has been cancelled. imageQueen Ifrica has been engulfed in a public firestorm since she used her moment on stage during Jamaica’s Independence gala to denounce homosexuals. Significantly, the Ministry of Culture, which put on the event, was not amused: it issued a statement where it regretted that an artiste had used the platform “to express her personal opinions and views on matters that may be considered controversial, rather than to perform in the agreed scripted and rehearsed manner”. She is, of course, entitled to her personal opinion, but should she have used her own time and space to do that, rather than at a government-organized public event?

Russia found itself recently in a similar swell of international disapproval because of its policies regarding propaganda supporting homosexuality. Russia is entitled to make whatever policy it wishes, but how did its views sit with athletes who have to visit the country to compete in the World Championships last week and what happens if they engage in the banned propaganda? The matter
takes on a different tone when Russia hosts the next winter Olympics, and its policies are set against the Olympic ideals of friendship, fair play, and solidarity.

Both artiste and country might have fallen on the same thorn, homosexuality, but similar controversy has faced others over other touchy issues. In the USA, those for or against gun control or abortion, for example, have had their views assessed and been forced to reconsider. China has found itself facing international condemnation of its human rights records. Years ago, South Africa’s apartheid policy was a hot potato.

In the Caribbean, I remember Barbados’ prime minister banning Jamaican dance hall artistes, Movado and Vybz Kartel, from visiting the country in 2010, citing concerns about consequences from their violent lyrics. Also Vybz Kartel was banned in other Caribbean due to his profane lyrics. Time was when Rastafarianism was vilified as both a religious and cultural movement in Jamaica. But, isn’t time a wonderful healer.

One simple modern truth is that you cannot hide in this world. Modern technology now puts any seemingly obscure event into the eyesight or earshot of the whole planet. A policeman beating a suspect. A politician saying something offensive. A burglar creeping through a window. All are now easily captured as images and sound, then shared. That wasn’t Queen Ifrica’s problem, but she seemed to forget that her provocative comments would be seen and heard, not just in little Jamaica, but also in a bigger country she was about to visit, and worldwide. Canada has a more-liberal attitude toward homosexuality and someone should have suggested to Queen Ifrica to hold her comment till after the rasta gig. Maybe someone did but she couldn’t resist the rush of excitement on stage in front of 25,000 spectators. I wonder if she had planned to give the same anti-homosexual message in Canada; we may never know.

Whether Jamaica realizes it or not, it has a multidimensional image in the rest of the world. Sure, it’s great to be known for producing fast runners like rain. We love to be loved for our music. But, the world knows us, also, for a range of less-flattering traits. All the recent talk about ‘brand Jamaica’ and whether that would be tarnished by revelations of failed drug tests by star athletes did not tackle the prospect that Jamaica has many brand marks. One brand is its violence: that is why some countries give their citizens severe warnings about personal safety when visiting the island, and why all-inclusive resorts are popular. “Jamaicans are violent. Beware!” The message is clear. Tourists are warned about driving on our roads: “Jamaican drivers are dangerous and reckless.” The message is clear.

Another brand is that the island is a drug paradise. Tourists may believe that smoking cannabis is legal and that they can get away with toting a spliff. Sorry! Jamaica tries to correct that image, but, I suspect the message is lost.

Jamaica is branded an economic failure. Some will try to contest that view; others will say only the blind cannot see it. The fact that we are trying anew with an IMF arrangement is clear enough to me.

One more brand is the country’s anti-homosexual stance, often seen as uncompromising and very violent. This is not something to deny, but it’s also something that the rest of the world seems to lie less about the island. We are not alone, but we are renowned.

Queen Ifrica could have wanted to promote that last brand. Was she naive to do so just before a gig in a country with a more-accepting philosophy? Canadian reactions shouldn’t have been unexpected. Perhaps, the adverse Jamaican reaction was novel. Did she, who seems so wise in her social and political observations, just lose the plot? I wonder if she’s getting ready to assail us on other dislikes she harbours. Watch out politicians. ‘Don’t cry, Mr. Bunting’ may soon seem like a nursery rhyme. Look out media moguls. Watch out other fans. Will the Queen call out at her next Jamaican concert those who bleach their skin? The mouth is ready to bite more hands that feed it? Why don’t I think so?

Jamaican ambassadors, formal and informal have their hands full trying to present their country at its best. I don’t know whether Usain Bolt has had to field questions on all or some of these brand images. Maybe the PM, on her recent jaunt to China, has had her ear bent. Did Canada’s High Commissioner to Jamaica have a word with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in private or formally about how our Queen may be seen as an unwelcome guest?

Just as a brand may sell well, so too may it be taken quickly off the shelves. Sponsors running away from brands is often a bad sign. Tell that to the athletes. Who’s running to buy brand Jamaica? Who’s getting ready to clear us off the shelves?