#COVID19Chronicles-161: September 20, 2020-Some international and regional context

No definitive measure exists to say whether a country is doing well with the handling of COVID-19. That’s not to say you cannot assess the impact of measures used by countries.

Dramatic differences in how countries have been curbing transmission rates within their borders—and which actions have been most effective across the board.

Typically, the best weapon in the containment of diseases arsenal is a vaccine, which stops a virus before it can multiply inside a person. While the world waits for this preventative medicine, which may not be ready until next year, countries are focusing on other measures, such as testing, isolating sick people, and shutting down borders. But what scientists have learned since January is that COVID-19 often beat these defenses before they could even be established.

One thing many countries learn is that ‘containment fatigue’ is real, and restrictions will be fought hard my many, maybe even most, in some areas.

No measure can set one country against another to say categorically it has done better than others. Starting conditions were not the same. Underlying conditions are not the same. Social structures and cultures are different. Ethnic differences are not trivial. Health profiles (national, regional) are not the same. Resource availability differs, especially but not confined to what medical facilities exist (hospitals, equipment, staffing etc) and under what conditions (costs, physical location and quantities). I’ve tried to follow what’s going on in lots of countries since I got back from the UK to Jamaica in March. Responses in Europe were different across the continent. Response in the USA were different from those in Europe and also different across the (strange federal structure) states. I have tried to note responses in Latin America and Africa, but again, these are all over the place. A global pandemic with no common approaches across countries, seems to bode ill for eventual success, but let me try to remain optimistic. I am not going to hail or condemn any country. I noted Sweden and Israel early on because they took clear policy stances; Sweden decided to keep things as close to normal as possible (it had some lockdown, initially. The BBC reported: ‘Sweden has largely relied on voluntary social distancing guidelines since the start of the pandemic, including working from home where possible and avoiding public transport. 
There’s also been a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people, restrictions on visiting care homes, and a shift to table-only service in bars and restaurants. The government has repeatedly described the pandemic as “a marathon not a sprint”, arguing that its measures are designed to last in the long term.’

Israel decided to lockdown much (eg travel restrictions, social distancing, national emergency) early on–all in the context of no official government, pending elections.

Sweden was much criticized in the first three months, largely because its death rate was considerably higher than most. Three months further on, and the Swedish approach is showing that the impact of the pandemic has levelled off considerably (almost disappeared) and deaths are lower than in many countries. A significant part of the death story is that Sweden got wrong the policy for people in care homes, who made up the bulk of deaths. Its economy is now showing a much shallower downturn than many of its comparators.

Israel’s early success is just about to be put back as it has decided to reimpose a near total lockdown ahead of the major religious celebration, including Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, on 27 September. That new lockdown has created major political upheaval.

As the BBC reported: ‘Many nations are experiencing second surges of the virus. However most governments are now imposing smaller local lockdowns in affected areas, rather than blanket national ones.’

So, the global pandemic is exhibiting a global pattern, as second waves appear after countries have tried to go back to ‘normal’. This second wave is at least of the same intensity and magnitude (cases and deaths) as the first. It’s too early to say if this will be the chronic trend, going forward, ie if multiple waves of varying intensity will occur and with what intervals. So, somewhat like other coronaviruses, eg flu, we may see something that is quasi-seasonal, ie recurrent and inevitable.

As Jamaica’s minister of health and wellness releases data daily on tests, cases and deaths, people see Jamaica’s progress in great national and local detail, but they see little else. I do not recall a comparison with more than one or two countries in the region. Consequently, it’s easy to get what’s happening in Jamaica out of context, even in the simple regional geographical sense, especially now community transmission is occurring. But, in light of what is going on elsewhere in the world, it’s important to not just look at our country as if that tells us very much. People who should have an eye on the region can be cited as saying “Jamaica’s numbers are bad!” Bad, my foot!

Relative to most countries in the Caribbean, Jamaica’s results are good, especially when seen on a per 100,000 people basis, as the chart shows, and notably, when one considers bigger territories.

So, before you feel tempted to join the chorus of ‘the sky is falling on Jamaica’, cast your eyes around and ask if the Dominican Republic or Trinidad or The Bahamas look to be in a more ‘perilous’ state. Always, being mindful (if possible) of what each country has done or is trying to do.

#COVID19Chronicles-135: August 27, 2020-Happy birthday, curfew…‘60 is the new 40’

My wife celebrated her 60th birthday yesterday. Yea, Therese!

It had long been her intention to ‘make it another big bash’, after her 50th party rave in Nassau. That had been blessed by rain that never dampened people’s spirits, while the real stuff flowed with wine and champagne, and all graced with food that Caribbean people love, with its strong Bahamian twist. Friends had gathered from far and wide, and airline business got a boost.

Without going into details of the plans for 2020, several venues came up in Europe, Africa and the Bahamian Family Islands. Then, the spoiler of all spoilers arrived on a plane from ‘Corona’.

“Hello, anybody locked down at home?”

So, scaling down began as the problems of international travel increased, till the plan was left as just a mainly family event in Nassau.

Badoom! Corona said “Not this time, baby!”

The Bahamas went into all-island weekend lockdown again in late-July. Using that now-common COVID phrase, out of an abundance of caution, She cancelled flights her and our daughter—I’d already decided not to travel, as I am in a ‘more vulnerable’ category, and thoughts went on how to ‘party’ in a COVID19Life way. I threw out the idea that the refreshments could be supplied and people celebrate remotely.

“Hi, I’m Zoom. Going my way?”

I wasn’t on the planning committees, but the many skilled organizational hands that my wife has as siblings were, I’m sure, hammering away at ideas.

So, as the day approached, I say goodie bags arrive at the house with ‘Hip hip, hooray’, then I saw boxes of what looked like Champagne delivered. Hmmm. I went off to play golf at the weekend, and got a message that my playing partner needed to stop by on our way back, as there was ‘something for him’. I’d heard plans to bake a poppy seed cake, so I primed him to get one of those. Well, I hope he wasn’t disappointed to get a bag with a bottle of bubbly, instead, and instructions to join the celebration.

So, on Monday, a ‘courier’ was despatched with filled bags and envelopes to deliver. I was not a recipient, so I guess the details were included along with the number of the offshore bank account for the birthday contributions. Whatever.

Tuesday morning came, and in a moment of weak romanticism, I decided to make coffee and take it up to wake up the birthday girl, along with a cupcake delivered along with others in a box the night before. I met her at the top of the stairs as she got up early…planning to play tennis. Quick hug and off she went to sit down and enjoy her birthday ‘breakfast’. She, then, headed off to tennis about 5.50am.

I just trundled along till our daughter surfaced early, at about 7, asking “Where’s, Mummy?” I told her and she was glad that time was on her side to whip up a surprise breakfast.

There we were in the kitchen as she and our housekeeper rustled up some fruit and a cooked offering. Her mother came back at about 7.15, and, seeing the plans, headed for a shower.

“Earthquake! Did you feel it?” I yelled, as my swivel counter stool shook and I gripped the counter. Two sets of blank stares met mine. It was about 7.30. They had not felt a thing, while I had shaken for about 3-5 seconds. ODPEM later confirmed that we’d had a 4.8 earthquake, centered in Mile Gully, Manchester.

While ‘Mutt and Jeff’ looked blank, the birthday girl had felt it while in her birthday suit under the hot water: “Did you feel the Earth move?” She yelled from on high. “I wont say; our daughter is listening,” I replied 🙂

She came down and enjoyed her breakfast, then was off, for a hair appointment and ‘meetings’. She came back around 9.30, phone in hand and headphones in…”I’m on a Zoom call…” trailed off upstairs.

The rest of the day, she was busy, from what I heard, as Spanish and English voices swirled around.

Fast forward, we had an early dinner, together, and waited for the appointed hour, 6.30pm.

Cutting to the chase, her brother had set up a Zoom birthday party and the guest list was long; it reached over 50 by the time the call was ending at about 9pm.

As we say, the list was full of the ‘usual suspects’, which included friends from our many homes in different countries, but mainly Barbados and the USA, with a good crop of Jamaicans on the island, plus a Jamaican friend who shared the birthday with my wife, but had decided to head back to England last week to sort out some business. For him, the party started just after 1am and he stayed the full course, to after 3am, UK time.

As is often the case with these calls, a few glitches needed sorting out to get everyone access, but they were minor.

We were scrolling furiously on an iPad to see the many guests, while her brother-MC had set his feed up on his TV in Nassau and could see all at once. We need to figure that out.

Lots of happy faces and voices and well-wishing came, and a few late arrivals soon caught up.

It’s harder to manage people in these online sessions, especially if the ‘rules of engagement’ aren’t set out at the start. But, we are mostly polite and ‘raised hands’ to speak and there wasn’t too much cross-talk. The toasts were nice, and a lot of acknowledgement of my lady as a modern ‘rock star’ in her field and as a representative of her country and the region. Behind every great woman, there’s a man glued to football on the TV: I play my part 🙂

She’s fresh off a several-page glam spread in the Jamaica Observer:

The pandemic has forced many changes to ordinary life, and this is yet another example. 50-odd people ‘go’ to a ‘party’ on their computer or mobile device. The drink and fete and dont have to worry about driving home after, or getting stopped during curfew—ours restarted earlier last week from 7pm, instead of 11. We didn’t need to be like some ‘celebrities’ have done recently and have people risk their health and hug and mingle and not bother with any health protocols except as an initial nicety.

Much as I like lots of modern technology, especially for fast and wide communication, I’ve discovered I’m a bit of a Zoom-aphobe, not yet fully at ease with the clustered images. But, I stayed the course, last night. So proud of myself! 🙂

The birthday girl crashed about 10pm and is still in the Land of Nod. That’s how to do it!

Whether ‘60 is the new 40’ has any meaning, we shall see. I hope she doesn’t have to work another 25 years to prove the point, though 🙂

#COVID19Chronicles-104: July 27, 2020-WI Global ‘In the Living Room’ discussion: Reboot, Rethink and Refocus

I was a guest yesterday in a wide-ranging discussion live streamed on the WI Global Facebook platform. We covered a lot of ground in over two hours on how to reboot the English-speaking Caribbean island economies: regional integration, investment thinking and oppportunities, dependence on tourism, and education—all within the framework of what the future focus should be coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Have a listen, in full or in part, and feel free to get back to me with any reactions.

https://www.facebook.com/WIGlobalmedia/

Sharing some of nature’s beauty: week 1, 2020

I find much pleasure in enjoying natural things and being outdoors. Many know that they can often find me on a golf course for that reason, rather than actually playing golf. It’s why I enjoy gardening: my father said “Always stay close to the land”. Many of my pictures are of flowers, plants, landscapes, animals or other things I encounter by chance when out and about. Someone suggested on Twitter that when we encounter nice natural things it’d be good to share them. What a great idea. So, for this first week of a new year, I’m going to try to do that and continue on a weekly basis. It fits with an idea I had last year to move more towards visual storytelling rather than literal storytelling.

The selection below spans the two weeks I have spent during the Christmas season, which ends tomorrow, January 5. What I notice from these is how nature has been touched by humans; I’ll even say enhanced, not least in making the sights accessible. You’ll see, too, that some of the natural shots have no human interference (eg sunrises, or wind effects), and some show nature largely left to itself (banana ground). The golf course video is intriguing because of how nature has adapted to man’s influence, with the sea birds taking advantage of new shelter and feeding opportunities. That’s a nice spread of what is often on display to all of us. I’m not sure, at this early stage, if I will start to shape my observations to focus on certain elements, but let’s see. Enjoy!

Arc of the covenant: Thoughts on a migratory path

Why did my parents choose the paths they did? After my mother decided to go to England to further her nursing career, why did my parents do what they did? My father could have stayed in Jamaica with me and kept on a nursing career path already underway. He could have taken me to my mother in England and left me with her (she had potentially good family support there). Long-distance relationships were, and still are, not uncommon amongst migrants, so too are families where children get left behind while parents seek work abroad. Splitting the household could have minimized risks and removed many uncertainties. I could have grown up as a ‘barrel child’. Their son could have moved along an educational path that, while not certain, was better known and understood. Instead, he was pitched into a new educational set-up, which he navigated better than many of his migrant peers and ended up well-positioned, as his parents had hoped. My parents opted to move into a world that often treated migrants as second-class citizens, especially in key areas like jobs and housing. What a huge risk!

At what point did any of these options get discussed or discarded? Of course, I can’t now pose those questions of my parents.

That the choices they made did not leave them on the floor of migrants’ fortunes over a period of 25 years is fascinating. They succeeded far more than they failed. For instance, they moved from renting small basement flats in London’s inner city to buying houses in the suburbs. That’s a good story to tell.

No way could they have foretold events that would leave them living comfortably as retirees in Jamaica, debt-free, pensions coming predictably from the UK, largely protected from exchange rate losses, not uncertainly from Jamaica in depreciated dollars.

Hindsight is 20-20, so I don’t know how much second guessing my parents did through their lives, but I know they were happy with the outcomes.

It’s not the economy, stupid! It’s the people?

Once in my working life at the Bank of England I had responsibility for a team that looked at economic development in English-speaking Caribbean countries. I got into a professional bind by arguing, against the official policy line that devaluation was to be supported as a way of easing Jamaica out of its economic woes. I argued, based on my understanding of how Jamaica had worked for decades, that while one side of the devaluation equation worked, the economy was titled in a way that meant the gains would go out on the other side: we imported more than we exported and the balance of that meant higher net costs but without the needed gains that could come from a more competitive exchange rate; we also had lots of tied contracts in bauxite that were not sensitive to exchange rate changes. My other reasons were based on ‘cultural senses’ that Jamaicans were not going to change habits fast enough to make exchange rate shifts work quickly; that was part of the truth but also reflected that fact that jinnalship meant Jamaicans were as likely to find ways around the change, eg by making use of remittances more (which, being in foreign exchange, meant full protection). I did not win the internal debate at the Bank, and my career did not tailspin. Fast forward.

Jamaica has done what many economists would see as the ‘right thing’ in recent years in dealing with the long-standing issue of a bloated fiscal deficit and its debt burden. Now, that improvement can be an important necessary condition, but is not sufficient, to use economics jargon. It’s also allowed the exchange rate to be ‘flexible’, or depreciate in visible terms. 

What economic policies are supposed to do is to change the way that ‘economic agents’ operate, based on certain assumptions about behaviour. What has so often been the problem with Jamaica (and many other countries) is understanding how people react and if they react in unexpected ways, how to taper policies so that the desired effects are still achieved. 

One thing certain about curbing fiscal excesses is that less money will slosh around between political powers and private people: that’s simple maths. That squeeze may have some negative economic effect, but it may be less if the previous beneficiaries find other ways to operate and make money. 

Similarly, with the exchange rate depreciation, significant numbers of people and businessmen are not totally exposed and can draw on foreign exchange buffers or substitute domestic items for imports enough to get by. 

The problem with all of this is that some of the things needed to change economic behaviour are not in the hands of economic policy makers. 

A simple example. Interest rates are meant to offer incentives to save (and by extension, to spend). Now, if people are fearful of banks (for whatever reasons) changing interest rates in the banking system does not affect behaviour much because people stay away from the system where interest rates matter. So, one of the first steps in this instance is to get over people’s fears and dislike of banks and other financial institutions. That is a matter of education and life experiences; the life experiences may have deeper roots than education can uproot, so it’s a hard battle to just ‘teach’ people about the benefits of banks. No sooner have the lessons been learned than a ‘disaster’ occurs when many people (and friends) lose money deposited in banks. The old suspicions resurface and new fears arise. So, the battle is nearly or totally lost. However, economic policy makers have few tools, of which interest rates are one. Stuck.

When I look closely at Jamaica, I’m as perplexed as I ever was why somethings don’t change or change at the pace at which a snail sprints. I have to wonder if it’s something engrained, like ‘in the water’ or ‘in our food’, which are sort of intangibles.  So, in that vein, is it ‘in the people’? 

All the macroeconomics are undone easily by a microeconomic set-up that does not correspond well to many standard ways of thinking about economics. Part of me sees this as a curse, but it has also been a boon.

The curse is that all the pulling of the macroeconomic levers don’t give the expected results. We know this, for sure, in Jamaica! The good part is that Jamaicans have found ways to overcome economic ‘problems’ and found many different ways to ‘survive’. Now, a key part of that survival is about not staying within all the legal lines that exist. That is one of the binds that stop me clapping every time I think about how Jamaica has not imploded. If the world were full of ‘wild West’ countries and anarchy was the mark of success, then Jamaica would be hailed, I’m sure. 

What is more puzzling to me over recent times, as I’ve had more chance to see life lived in Jamaica, is how many of the microeconomic quirks are not restricted to any social class. We’ve carved out a way of life that makes the most wealthy and best educated less different from those at the other end of the scale than wide wealth and education differences usually mean.

Monetary gains and losses do drive how Jamaican people act but in some odd ways:

  • Businesses do not strive to be the best as a way of ensuring their financial success; many are content to just do what they do; customers like it or lump it. This is not abnormal in many economies, but usually means the demise of enterprises. That is not the case in Jamaica, which means that businesses must be surviving WITHOUT business.
  • Time is (near) meaningless: if time is money in most people’s minds, it doesn’t have that connotation for many Jamaicans. (It’s one way of rationalizing why Jamaicans don’t see timeliness as important, because they have somehow given time zero value. As a fellow blogger pointed out to me today, saying ‘7.05’ means ‘sometime before 8’ to a Jamaican 🙂 ) But, economically, if money doesn’t matter (in the normal flow of events) then value must have ways of being preserved that are not apparent.
  • Attention spans are short, but ‘memories’ are long. Many Jamaicans will have ‘ready reactions’ to any phenomenon, but barely want to analyse what is really going on. (This is reflected in the way that ‘news’ and ‘events’ are reported–much of the ‘What’ and little of the ‘Why’.)Many Jamaicans live with the illusion of things being better in the past–despite lots of evidence to the contrary or no means of really comparing. What’s funny about that is that people will talk about the ‘good old days’ but do nothing (much) to recreate those times. I’ve yet to see a Jamaican ready to give up the motor vehicle, access to running water and (near) constant electricity, or the telephones, as part of the step back in time that is needed 🙂
  • Distortion is the norm. At its worst, this is all about corruption. Transparency International defines this as: ‘Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It can be classified as grand, petty and political, depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs.’ The Merriam-Webster Dictionary puts it more simply: ‘dishonest or illegal behavior especially by powerful people (such as government officials or police officers): the act of corrupting someone or something.’ My take is that ‘powerful’ has to be scaled down to include anyone who has influence over others, which means that many more are actually in the position to be corrupt and do corrupt things. The fact that the deeds are common or long-standing doesn’t change their nature. This is something that the integrity of Jamaicans often does not understand or accept. 

The first three bullets point to the impact of ‘hidden economic activity’ that may be a principal or not trivial part of many people’s lives. I hope the economic logic of that is clear. The last bullet is different, as it points squarely to what ‘government’ does, more than other parts of the economy. It bothers me more than other things, because we have a country where many monetary flows are opaque, at the level of government, where transparency and accountability are supposedly built-in to protect ‘the people’. Without dredging through Archives we find too many stories such as reported last week about hay: Millions Down The Drain In Hay Project. The extracts say enough: 

  • ‘…financial mismanagement and lax oversight uncovered…
  • ‘In reference to the proposed revenue that was forecast, the project revenue is at a deficit of -$17,492,750,’ the auditors wrote…’At Bodles, they reported that no records were being maintained for the production of hay between April 2014 and December 2015. For the first six months of 2016, the audit found that 1,329 bales of hay were produced at both facilities, compared to a projected 54,000 bales.’

The average Jamaican lives with the sense that government is full of corruption and reacts with feigned or little surprise at stories such as these. The real surprise is really that such ‘malfeasance’ goes on undetected in many realms and for extended periods. But, as I’ve said before, corruption is so entrenched that its total beneficiaries are far more numerous than those who are not. If you don’t believe in ‘trickle down’ economics, then you wont understand how the ‘feeding tree’ of Jamaica misappropriation of public funds works. Everyone gets to eat because of someone taking money that is not truly theirs to distribute. To break that system is to break the society. 

In that sense, our pervasive corruption is worse, in my eyes, than the corruption often seen elsewhere, where a very limited pool of ‘elites’ benefit. In Jamaica, almost everyone’s life depends on it. 

Institutions like the IMF know that it’s not just the economic policy levers that need to be turned to fix the economy. However, the Fund cannot enforce changes in areas outside its mandate. Its structural policies must still stay within its ambit, so it tries to go to the limits but cannot go further. To get the whole of a country change economically requires a government to be committed to putting in place a wide swathe of policy changes that go in the same direction as the desired economic policy. In other words, it must have complentatry meaures to support the economic ones. Government must also fix itself by weaning itself away from some or all of its bad habits, such as evidenced by the ‘hay project’ fiasco. That is much harder than may appear in countries like Jamaica, where (as I have said, repeatedly) have built themselves on ‘rent-seeking’ behaviour. That has to stop and maybe unwound. Like taking out a thorn, it cannot be done without pain (real, imagined, or both). 

        Government ‘fixing’ itself is both direct and exemplary: how many countries can progress if government is seen to practice things it says it is against? Also, government must change first and fast.

        Jamaica is not alone is struggling to get its economic act together. Jamaica is also not alone in terms of countries that have struggled economically then made a major forward turn. However, it takes time, consensus, and coherence in policies. 

        Getting the macroeconomy right is only a step on this journey, rather than the journey, itself. I’m not sure Jamaicans understand that. 

        Just monkeying around: scenes from a round at Apes Hill

        Looking west to the ocean
        Sheep grazing
        Nice to look at, and better to not hit here 😊👍🏾🏌
        View of new clubhouse
        Reminders of the past: sugar mill

        Listen to the Voices of our Senior Citizens on Climate Change

        A wonderfully clear and simple eye-opener written by fellow blogger and community activist, Emma Lewis.

        **********

        How are our seniors doing? It’s a question that perhaps we don’t ask ourselves often enough, in the context of climate change. Like other vulnerable populations, our senior citizens are not necessarily outspoken. They don’t come out and shout about how the tides of change are affecting their daily lives. Moreover, the field of climate […]

        https://petchary.wordpress.com/2015/11/11/listen-to-the-voices-of-our-senior-citizens-on-climate-change/

        Beautiful Barbados, as it’s advertised

        No two places are the same. When you arrive somewhere new, the first impressions are always interesting. When I left Jamaica as a small boy, some 50 plus years ago, the things that struck me as I arrived in new lands were climatic. It was autumn, and Newfoundland felt like the Arctic to my little body, fresh out of the Tropics. When I landed in Endlad, it was less cold,but the damp mist or fog were bizarre new elements. When you travel around the world, climate is a natural difference,but so too are physical structures, languages, how people act, and more.

        No two Caribbean islands are alike, and their differences can be all of the above, and more. I lived in Barbados for about three years in the mid-2000s. I enjoyed living there. I’ve been back a few times, but this was the first trip there since going back to Jamaica. The first difference–small, but notable–is that you have to walk down steps onto the tarmac. That brings me back to trips to Jamaica many decades ago, when the first impression was of the hot air hitting lungs that had gotten used to hours of air conditioned breathing.

        It was one of my first trips travelling with just hand luggage and I was done with Immigration and Customs within 10 minutes, the longest time taken being for the Customs officer to put on her hygienic gloves. I got my rental car and was in my south coast hotel within one hour of arriving on the island. Admitted, I had landed at night, and traffic was light. But, there too, the differences are striking. Kingston is a hubbub all the time into the wee hours. Barbados is asleep, it seems, after 9pm. I saw one man walking the highway in the dark. I saw no goats or pigs, or pan chicken stands, or even ladies of the night. The sounds of the sea and waves I could hear from my room seemed to sum up the languid feel. I was staying at a place where I used to live for a few months, and it had its familiar feel.

        Morning showed me little surprising. I’d decided to not have the waves lull me to sleep, but dawn did its trick and I was up and ready to have a sea bath. Of course, I was not first on the beach. Some people looking like tourists from cooler northern climes were walking. Some men sounding like Bajans were walking to my beach, with snorkels in hand, and they were soon in the sea swimming back from where they had walked. I took a short walk on the soft white sandy beach, then went for my little soak in the salt water.20140718-072920-26960432.jpg

        Barbados is small enough to easily drive around in a day. It has few hills of any real steepness or height. It has fabulous beaches, and beautiful sea. It has very good roads, and I never touched a pot hole on my drive from the airport. Lighted neighbourhoods are what you view on approaching at night. Its palm trees are lining the sandy fringe of the land. It’s like paradise. It’s what tourists dream of.

        On your marks.

        The inaugural IAAF World Relays, in Nassau, The Bahamas, has been my family’s point of focus since Friday. It was put on the calendar at Christmas and other important events have had to fall in line behind it. So, I missed the Jamaican National Amateur Golf Championships over the long holiday weekend. It would have been my first try, but I hope to get a chance next year. Move on. The weekend allowed the two sides of my life to coincide. Of course, my wife’s family was in full display. But, my Jamaican family got a good airing: one cousin was part of the Jamaican athletics delegation, and we hooked up with another cousin on the same side of our family, who’s been living in The Bahamas for about 20 years. Both sets met over an evening BBQ, which started late because of meetings for the Jamaican track team.

        Major sporting events take a lot of organizing and it was nice to know that one of my wife’s family was behind much of the logistics of the IAAF event. Some if her friends were also involved in the daily running of the meet. I took a walk around yesterday, before the main raiders began, to take a look around the stadium. By chance, I bumped into my wife’s friend and she took me around the back room of the event. I explained to her that I try to understand what is going on. We looked at how sponsors’ guests were greeted and treated. We looked at the volunteers working. We checked how the volunteers were treated: they need food and water, and have parking issues, too. We looked at the local tv feed. I heard what the Junkanoo players were supposed to be doing, then we saw they were not doing that. Rather them, than this boy managing all of that. I rushed back to my seat just in time for the first main event.

        I found myself sitting next to a very funny lady and her husband. We got into a banter because I was sporting my Jamaican colours. “You sure you’re in the right section?” Stuff like that. We moved past the friendly banter and talked a little about families. She was a sprinter back in the day; so was I. Her sons were also runners, now working. She told me her family name: that’s important for Bahamians, who link their names to the many ‘family islands’ and relish their connections to parts other than New Providence. She was ‘from Acklins’, she told me with a twist. I gradually understood what was that twist. As we talked more, it became clear that she was connected to my wife’s family, at least through a genealogical link to common friends. “Ask your mother in law if she knows Miss….?” she suggested. I did. She did. My new BFF smiled. She goaded me more. It was revealing. Her sons were friends of a younger member of my wife’s family. So, not went. My daughter and I had been given promotional tattoo stickers and I shared some with my new friend. I showed her how to apply it; she chose to out it on her arm. “I’ll never wash this arm again,” she said, “I can wash with one hand.” I quipped that this was a great opportunity for her husband to step up his game; the three of us rolled over laughing. She said she would put another tattoo on her other arm 😉 So. We went on.

        The races were exciting.

        Jamaican fans were in much evidence; many work and live in Nassau. They were there in clumps, including as part of their Bahamian households, if they were domestic workers. I had my whistle ready and was washing noise over the sea of Bahamians in which I sat. Day one had been stellar for Jamaica: a world record in the 4×200 meters relay, anchored by Yohan Blake, with no Usain Blake. ‘The Beast’ bared his really long nails for the photo opportunities. The team draped itself in the national flag. Jamaicans and Bahamians went wild. That’s how the night ended.

        For day 2, the crowd expected more of the same. Jamaica’s prowess is renowned: “What do you put in that yellow yam? It’s organic?” I was asked, with some raised eyebrows. But, it was not to be coll runnings for the brethren and sistrin.

        We made a total hash of the baton exchange in the fist leg of the 4×400 A final.

        That’s the easiest handover, and it looked like simple lack of concentration. We were in lane 8, on the outside, and near the lead. Instead, baton on the ground, we were out of the race. The incoming runner held his head in his hands as his team mate tried to reduce what was now a gap of some 50 meters. I would not like to be in the team meeting later. I told people that Jamaica does not drop batons. We pull hamstrings. We run out of our box. But we pass the stick safely. The USA team has become notorious for relay foul-ups; they can keep that. Not us! The USA team win, which was their destiny. We could have come close. It’s history now that we were 8th.

        The women’s 4×200 meters final was billed as the ‘Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce show’ by the announcer, Ato Bolden. I said to those around me that was a jinx. The women ran and the exchanges did not loom great, and the ‘Pocket Rocket’ trailed in third. Her gold and black hair, with red bow, looked lovely. The running? I mentioned that she’d been injured, recently. “No excuses!”was the cry around me. None given. USA won again. We would have had a stiff race with a stronger team, but no crying.

        Last event of the night: the marquee event, the men’s 4×100. No Bolt, but Blake. No Asafa. But, the team had clocked 37.71 in the heats, for a world-leading time; Great Britain looked dangerous, with 37.93, winning their heat. No other team broke 38 seconds. We pulled lane 6. I did not like the vibes, after the less-than-inspired preceding relays. My palms were sweating. But, my whistle was ready. The start was faulty: France’s lead off man, wearing one black and one white knee-high socks, was injured, looked uneasy, seemed to step out of his blocks, he was shown the red card. Some Gallic arm waving followed, the event went on to the restart. Bang! We got an early lead and extended it with Weir on the second leg. The exchanges were safe; that’s all we needed. The baton went into Blake’s hand and he had a good lead, which he kept easily for the win in 37.77. Job done. Crowd went wild.image

        We started to think about dealing with the exiting traffic. Rain started to fall softly. It soon became a downpour as we headed to the car. We sat and took our time, but I got bored and ‘turned Bahamian’, finding a dirt track parallel to the main road. We were past the jam in moments 🙂 We took my wife’s sister home, out west, grabbed a tub of peas soup, and headed back east to Paradise Island. We had our nightcaps.

        All of our enjoyment had another side, of course. Economies like ours have developed depending on foreign visitors. The Bahamas has taken a lead, among the English-speaking Caribbean nations, with some prestige international events. PM Perry Christie baldly begged the IAAF to let his country have the event for more than another year; he knows the added revenue and activity, even for volunteers, is important. The hotels were packed over the weekend. It was a holiday in Jamaica, but also running into the US Memorial Day holiday, today. Visitors could stay a little longer. Teams came with more,this just runners. They were taken care of in their hotels, but they would be tempted to spend on duty-free items, on conch salads, on sky juice (gin, coconut water, and condensed milk), or just hang out, but think about coming back with friends.

        I spoke with an American visitor in the breakfast line yesterday. He was in Nassau with his family, for the holiday weekend. He would not be playing golf here. But, he’d been here several times: repeat visitors are crucial. I touted Jamaica, with its great courses in the north coast. We exchanged card; I’d gladly host his in my country. We need his dollars, too.

        The Bahamas has a better visitor package than Jamaica in that Nassau is compact and has great features, such as Atlantis. For visitors from America, a major benefit is that connections are many and varied. Returning, Customs is cleared in Nassau. Jamaica has its problem, not least of which is drug trafficking. The violent reputation of our people precedes us. Even Bahamians are leery of Jamaicans. We need to embrace that our good ‘brands’, such as our athletes, have to ward off our bad ‘brands’, like crime. One world record does not erase the chilling thought of a nation of murderers. We are all duty bound to work for our good brands and against the bad ones.

        Bahamians are harsh on their own. The meet had started with a minor snafu: the microphone had delivered no sound when an IAAF official was making his speech. We could see his lips moving, but not a word heard. People waved their arms to get tech support. It came, eventually. Their athletes performed well and also messed up: baton drop by the women in the 4×400 heats, and the culprit did not seem rushed to pick it up and get moving again; another squad that was put together ‘last week’. They local crowd went berserk in the men’s 4×400 final. Their ace, Chris Brown, did not disappoint, and his 3rd leg brought the home team in leading. All were up, horns blaring, bells clanging. But, the USA clawed them back, and squeezed them into 2nd place. Initial disappointment. Eventual acceptance and joy.

        The country will have a fillip for a few more days and other economic issues will slip from views a few more days. The financial weaknesses will come back: VAT is coming with little love, but it’s generated a hit song. That may be a first.

        Jamaica will have to face its realities, too.

        The other countries were not eclipsed, totally.

        Kenya will go home with two world records and US$100,000. That’s not shabby. Little St. Kitts and Nevis ran out of its socks. All added to the thrills.

        Those who did not qualify for the main finals got second chances in B finals. One such team, the Ukraine’s men’s 4×100 team, won the B event, and set a national record. I hope they take that back home with the excited joy they showed last night. Their country needs it.

        I’m a great believer in sport as an important part of life balance. Playing it, of course, counts, but so too does watching. It releases stresses and lets emotions flow. Some take it too seriously. But, better to get passionate about something that be grey and flat.

        The IAAF event was time out for many, but we need that to be able to thrash out our  life’s other issues.