Our youngest will not be living on Skid Row :)-June 2, 2021

I can’t explain why I’m more nervous about our 3rd child going off to college than about her two older sisters, now in their 30s. But, I am. Maybe, it’s just simply seeing the last of the brood leave the nest 🙂

Anyway, I’m trying to embrace what I know I have gone through before.

So, she’ll be off to college in California in August. She now has somewhere to live; she excitedly announced she’d gotten her housing assignment. She’ll share a 2-bedroom with 3 others. She’s opted for a random selection of roommates. She knows one of the girls who will be there, named on the assignment. I know she’s likely to start linking through messages and chats, and by moving-in day, they could be besties 🙂

I’m keep reassuring myself she’ll do fine; she has done so, often. But…

Swing through, don’t try to hit the ball

This week, I find myself with a group of kids who are attending a golf clinic on the north coast. I had no idea I would be doing that 36 hours ago, but such is life. It’s no great hardship, as few things please me more than seeing youngsters make headway with a sport. Golf is simple in principle, yet so hard in practice, and some people do not have either the patience or concentration to master the simple application of swing to ball, and walk away frustrated that hitting an object that is not moving can be so difficult.

My young daughter got talked into participating, with the tempting prospect of hanging around a nice beach resort while other kids were having lessons. I explained to her that the cost of the lessons were already included in the accommodation, so she may as well join in and see how things go. The kids are having about 6 hours of instruction and playing; a long time for the younger ones (8 year olds), most of whom have not played before or very little. But, golf can be very rewarding when everything about the swing is right and the ball zings off the club towards its intended target. But, as Rory McIlroy has to admit, even the best golfers get rewards from swings that are all wrong. Better to be lucky than good, as the Irish know.

Well, after that little piece of chicanery, I thought it best to let her have at it and see how things went later. I took off to play a round early with some friends who live close to where we are staying. I have never played White Witch before, but had heard it was nice and challenging. Anyway, I was game for a try, whatever the outcome. I don’t usually use a caddy, but they tend to be included in the package on the north coast, along with a cart. White Witch is long and very undulating, and in common with the north coast, wind can be a big factor. My caddy was about 7 months pregnant. Did I need the prospect of a premature birth to complicate my round? I sake her to alert me early if she felt any sudden cramping.

My clinical duties today were to make sure the kids woke at 6:45 to have breakfast as 7:30. I was heading out by 7:25, so I did my deed and skidaddled.

My friend and his wife had played the course before, but some years ago. We were ready for adventure, but could not be anything but awestruck by the view from the driving range. Jamaica really needs to sell its golf courses better.
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We played a decent round, and I invited my friends back for lunch. What lunch? Well, the hungry belly pickney nyam off di food. Hard work in the sun had boosted appetites. Embarrassed, I suggested that my friends come over later or another day. I grabbed a left over hamburger for supper and nuked that for my lunch. I then went to see how the clinic was going.

I could see groups of children and carts. As I got closer, I heard some laughter. That’s always a good sign with kids. They were either having a good time or someone was making them think they were having a good time. I caught up with my daughter’s group and walked along with them. Two younger boys were with her, and they looked wilted. Often, for sports camps, the younger ones just do a half day: their energy and concentration is not usually strong enough. But, they kept going for about another couple of hours. I also saw the group of older or more experienced golfers. All seemed to be trying and succeeding with new techniques and enjoying their little games of golf.

At the end of the session, the director, an English professional, asked how things had gone and if newcomers had enjoyed it. Up went a big brown thumb that was attached to my daughter’s hand. What! “I don’t usually enjoy things I don’t want to do,” chirped she. Knock me down with a feather. If I wasn’t a coach or player, I’d be salivating about how Jamaica had found its new female golf star, given the adulation she was getting. Well, her strong swimmer’s shoulders and legs were giving her a good start.

Every journey begins with a single step, and you never know to what a little exposure will lead.

The kids have no access to electronic devices most of the day. Hide and seek was played at lunch time. I hear yells of “Sardines”. I guess they are coping. Let’s see how they blend as the week goes.

In-flight entertainment: Why the best laid plans fall flat

Monday was a long travel day, and it had its moments. My daughter is a seasoned traveller, and rolls with the rides. She tried to keep up our spirits by telling some bad jokes, but mine are worse. We rolled around the platform laughing as we waited for our connecting train to Paris, in the afternoon. The announcer first told us that due to “climatic conditions” the train would be five minutes late. Then, due to “traffic management problems” it would be 10 minutes late. It came in 15 minutes late. We still got to Paris about on time. While waiting, we shared corny jokes. We cracked up (pay attention), when I told her a joke about a kernel who was afraid to go to war. We had our last moments of French speaking when I told her “maize we” (mais oui, for the francophones). She’s 10, she loved it. All went well, but the moments were priceless. Let’s start near the end, then get to the beginning.

My daughter and I saw the funniest sight ever as we sat on the plane waiting to depart from Paris Orly airport. Dozens of rabbits were in the fields by the runways.

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The picture may be fuzzy, but believe me, their running around and avoiding swooping crows was worth the wait for air control clearance.

Would you believe it? The last time I visited La Rochelle, on my last day, my friends and I were having such a good lunch with their neighbours, that we forgot that I had a train to catch. We then looked at the time, and horrified, jumped up, dashed back to their house a few doors away, jumped in the car, and dashed to the train station in no time flat. We all jumped out of the car and ran into the station. My train was still there and about to leave. I gave quick hugs and kisses, then I hopped into the first door and one of my friends put my bag in behind me. As the train pulled out of the station, we waved goodbye to each other, and I then found my seat and sat sweating and panting. I told my daughter this story before our current trip to La Rochelle. It was really a funny incident. It came up in conversation over the weekend with my hosts and we all had a good laugh. It was not going to happen again. We checked my train times before heading to bed: 12:52, I announced. One of my friends said he could not find that train on the schedule, but I rechecked and we all went to bed.

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Strolling calmly into a minor storm

On the day of departure, we all got up later than usual. My jet lag was over. The night had been split with a huge thunderstorm: the day had been very hot–at 10pm, the temperature had been 88F/30C, the same as in Jamaica where it was 3pm. Wow! My daughter had crawled into bed with me during the night, afraid of the thunder and lightning. I had gotten up in time to see and say goodbye to the daughter who is the firefighter. She was making porridge, again, as she had every day since I showed her how. Her parents then woke and, as usual, had coffee and toast and jam. My daughter eventually appeared around 9am. We all ate and slowly my daughter and I packed and then sat to chill out. My hosts decided to take lunch for their firefighter, so we would leave around midday to also get the travellers sandwiches from the boulangerie. Once, we left, we met a traffic hold up, so turned around and decided to head for another route, as time was going, we got the sandwiches and went straight to the station. We looked at the board. No 12:52 marked! I looked again at my itinerary.

The time was there. I looked at the ticket…9:30. Aaargh! the 12:52 was arrival time, which had been misaligned by the printer. We looked at the board and saw a 12:28 train to Paris, and it was in the station about to leave. Yes. We started running. This time, my friends, my daughter, our suitcases and their dog. We scooted down the stairs and up the next flight, and flung the child into the train, then the bags. I paused. I gave hugs and kisses and let out a huge laugh. “Unbelievable!” I said. The train pulled out.

Fortunately, we had a good amount of time on the original schedule. We arrived in Paris-Montparnasse, walked out of the station to the bus 100 metres away, and headed to Orly airport. We checked in by 6:15 for our 7:40 flight. We cooled out in a lounge. Our plane left on time and we were in London within an hour. Our time had been better spent because of my mistake–less hanging around the airport, for sure. My daughter and I shared a strange adventure. You can plan and you can plan and you can still fall flat on your face. A lesson I learned years ago.

 

Stick it to me, Brazil 2014: World Cup fever, for real

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Comprehensive Health Centre

Nothing puts into stark reality better that you are heading to a foreign land than when you have to take health precautions. So it is with Brazil. Yellow fever, measles, and polio are on the worry list. I went to the government facility downtown on Friday where vaccines are given.

My first impression was here was a group of Jamaicans from the country. People looked just like those seen coming off a bus near Coronation Market. I mean that as an observation only. Women in simple dresses and head scarves. Men in plaid shirts and ragged trousers.

I went to the room designated for the shots. A few people were already seated there. We all looked different to the general population at the centre. We were all dressed a bit differently from the rest of the people, with crisp cotton shirts, pressed blouses, and neat shoes. We were the travelling class.

The public health nurse asked all of us into a small room. “You’re all here for vaccines for Brazil?” she asked.

International immunization card
International immunization card

She then apologized for the size and lack of decor of the room. (I wondered if she would have done that for any group, or if we seemed to warrant that.) She told us about the pre-existing conditions that may make us ineligible for the yellow fever vaccines–allergic to eggs, having had another live virus vaccine in the past four weeks, etc. She indicated that, if relevant, those things would be discussed individually. She then sent us out, except the first two people (a couple). I was next in line and waited with the others on a bench outside the room.

The couple and I had gotten into a good conversation about ethics and conflicts of interest. The man had started off by talking about an executive for Pepsi saying publicly that Coke was better. Would it be reasonable for him to keep his jobs. We played around with alternatives and ways in which lawyers would try to make the case fuzzy. I did not want to allude to the recent Bain case. Then the man, explained that he was thinking about the Bain case. I laughed and explained how I had wanted to avoid making that connection. We discussed some more before the nurse called us in. (Interestingly, I later read that Prof. Bain had received a court injunction on his dismissal from his UWI/CHART post, pending an appeal.)

I got into another set of conversations with those waiting, getting an idea of when people were heading to Brazil (one as early as Saturday), for how long (most for 14 days), if they were going alone or with friends (friends would be met in Brazil). I said we could for a Brazil support group. “I wont support Brazil!” came back a waggish reply from one man. Point made.

I went in for my jabs. The nurse was now accompanied by another plump and smiling lady, who had the card in front of her and wanted my personal details. We chatted about injections and the days as a child when we got the polio vaccine on a lump of sugar. No more: the public health nurse asked me to open my mouth and administered some drops on my tongue. They tasted bitter; I wanted my sugar cube. She then brought a tray with two needles. She kept talking and asked with which hand did I write. She then pulled up the left sleeve of my shirt, rubbed alcohol on the corner of my shoulder, and then stabbed me with the needles. I wondered if this was really a fun thing. I remembered times when I had to have injections in my bottom, and not being able to walk for a day or so. The little tingle in my arm was nothing. My card was signed and stamped and I was free to leave.

Injection time
Injection time

I saw again the man who had taken my money at the beginning. He had told me that he needed the vaccine, but had been too afraid to ever get it. I told him again to just ‘man up’ and get his jabs. “Later,…” he said, and I headed out.

The vaccines are only given on Fridays, and with my travel planned, I would not get another shot at them before heading to Brazil. I had been lucky to realize that, as I know that without the yellow fever vaccine, I was likely to be returned from Rio.

I had to join my daughter’s class on a visit to a basic school and headed there. Playing a little with those 3-6 year olds would take my mind off the arm that was beginning to throb a little.

The rest of the day was really diversion. My daughter and her class had their promotion from elementary to middle school (from 5th to 6th grade), at school, and a doctor friend of mine came to give the speech, inspiring them to focus, try hard, and surround themselves with friends with positive energy. I was nearly in tears in my role welcoming her, after watching the class perform poetry, song and dance to represent what 5th grade had meant to them. I hugged my daughter as she cried and someone tapped my shoulder. I let out a little yelp. They remembered my vaccine. No harm.

It was well after 2pm, and the principal invited us to watch the World Cup match that was already underway–Spain-Netherlands. Suddenly, the screen that had been used for a backdrop with images of the children’s year was filled with football players running. However, they had arranged the hook-up, it was good. A few people started to watch and I did too, for a few moments. I figured that heading home fast would be better, as half time had arrived. A fast drive over the hills, with some other people following who did not know the way.

Parents and children had been invited back to our house for a social, with some light food and drinks. The parents lounged on the verandah. The children, changed out of swanky dresses or nice trousers and shirts into tee shirts and shorts, started playing on the lawn. That was about 3.30pm.

Drinks were served. Food arrived–a nice easy array prepared by one of Jamaica’s top, young chefs, with pasta with vegetables, potato wedges, pineapple chicken wings, quesadilllas, and veggie wraps. Lay into that! The class teacher had also arranged some sandwiches, prepared as a whole loaf round. We tucked into that quickly.

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My ball?

I had put on the television as soon as I got home. A gaggle of people wandered into the TV room, that opens out onto the veranda, and slumped into the sofa. We were in the right place. Match-watching was underway. The kids grabbed food and drink and started to play on the lawn.

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Hey, pass.

They were kicking a football, and soon, a game with about 15 boys and girls was underway. It kept going the whole afternoon, including with the addition of ‘super sub’ puppy, who plays football quite well, and barked and yapped with the kids for a good while. (One child was afraid of dogs and puppy got banished to a room inside the hose.)

The match watchers were comfortable. We absorbed the shock result of Spain losing 5-1 to Holland, including through a most spectacular header from Robin van Persie. Yes, he’s now ‘The flying Dutchman’.

I pointed out that the next match was coming up soon. More people crowded onto the sofa. The kids played on, some peeping in on their parents, but mostly absorbed in their own fun. The Chile-Australia match got underway at about 5. Fans were ready and cheering started early as the first Chilean goal was scored. More people came to huddle near the TV.

 

At half-time, we had a pause for a birthday celebration, with lighted candles and singing. Everyone grabbed their cake and soon returned to their places.

We, watching the match, stayed in the TV area till the game was done. The kids played on, most were now in the pool. The dog had been let out. All seemed calm in the yard. Some post-prandial torpor had set in.

It was about 7pm when people decided that it was time to go. My arm was aching as the side effects of the vaccine were apparent. People slowly drifted away, with children stacked together in groups that had set up sleepovers. It was clear that they had planned the afternoon of fun well. School officially had one more week to run, but my daughter was done. It had the feel of the end of term, and the afternoon just cemented that idea. Several children and their parents were due to leave Jamaica because of new work assignments. The sad reality of that was not dwelt on during the afternoon. It had its moment after the ceremony, when a wave of hugging and tears had begun. The class is a small, tightly knit bunch. The love each other.

I thought back to their afternoon, in contrast to their time with the little kids earlier in the day. At the basic school the morning had been filled with “He pushed me!”, “She hit me!”, “He wont share the ball…”, and so on. The children had many problems interacting without conflict. By contrast, my daughter’s class had spent about four hours playing with not a peep of dispute. I talked to her teacher to say that we needed to spend more time with the basic school kids.

At that time, as the children were leaving, some medical students arrived to study with my wife’s nephew. I showed them the left overs in the kitchen. Happy land. They shared out their meals and we started some little banter. They fired up an iPad and started watching highlights of the day’s World Cup matches. “That goal. How did he bend his neck so?”

World Cup fever is here, and I have the fever in my body.

For God’s sake!

On Saturday, I spent the ride from Kingston to Montego Bay seated next to a Pastor. Honestly, this was a first in all of my years of travel.

A few days ago I had tried to explain to someone how multi-textured Muslims were. I’d spent nearly four years working and living in Guinea, west Africa, where Islam is the official religion for about 90-95 percent of the population. But, that branch of Islam is built on a deep base of animist beliefs. So, for example, it was customary for homes and offices to have a statue of the goddess Nimba facing the doorway, to ward off evil spirits.

The Goddess Nimba
The Goddess Nimba

As soon as I arrived in the country office that was to be my post for the next few years, my secretary had me out in the street markets looking for a ‘good’ Nimba. In fact, I would need two: one for my office, and another for my residence; but, I did not have that, yet. I found a nice dark carving and placed her carefully facing any guests who would visit. “Soyez le bienvenue en Guinée!”

By contrast, Islam as practiced in Saudi Arabia, Libya, or Indonesia did not have the same cultural base.

Guinea is more like Jamaica than Saudi Arabia. It was common to see bare-breasted women on the streets of any town. That was part of national culture, and if Mohamed didn’t like it, he could lump it. Women in short pants and riding motorbikes were also a common sight. Go to Riyadh or Tripoli, and those displays would put the sheikhs into a shaking fit or send them tripping.

Guinea’s major manufacturer is a brewery, and you have no problem getting an ice-cold bottle of Skol or Guiluxe in a bar, or a six-pack in a store. Go to Saudi Arabia or Libya and you may have grape juice. Cheers!

So, my mind was primed for things religious and cultural.

The Pastor and I were just getting to know each other. I declared my professional background. I asked him about his congregation. He had two, one in St. Thomas, one in Montego Bay. He was a Pentecostal. He said they were mainly young. That was in contrast to my Anglican parish church in Kingston, which was mainly middle-aged, at least. What else was notable, I asked. “Voodoo,” he said. ‘Science’, ‘Obeah’. He elaborated. His people believed in God, but they also believed in other supernatural forces. Obeah in Jamaica is well-known, and features much in the life country areas, more than in Kingston. But, given the regular and familial interactions between town and country, Obeah is well-known throughout the island.

I do not mess with Obeah and won’t talk about it much. I know people who think it’s powerful. I don’t understand it’s workings, but won’t diss it. I know Obeah yards. My mother was once threatened in our home in London by a woman tenant wielding a large kitchen knife who accused her of working Obeah on her. We eventually, disarmed the woman and she was taken away by the police.

It’s funny listening to some recent discussions in Jamaica, which have a Christian component to them. You’d think that black Jamaicans arrived in Jamaica from Africa as full-fledged Christians. My understanding is that we ‘got (biblical) religion’ only in the late-18th century. Our ancestors came to the Americas with their pre-existing beliefs, including Obeah, on which Christianity was perched. We still have many of those dominating our lives. Maybe, some people forget that rather quickly.

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Evangelists feeling the spirit

We’re renowned waggonists. We lash out at some of those who’ve lived with their religious traditions for over 1000 years, and here we are, like reformed smokers or new teetotalers, preaching how wicked they are. We’re new kids on the block.

The Pastor told me more about his congregation. He was fully invested in helping them find directions in their lives. He did this with his weekly trips north, as well as his work in his St. Thomas and Kingston bases.

We moved on to talk about children. That was my fault. I had been keeping half an eye on the film showing on the Knutsford Express bus, Life of a kingstaring Cuba Gooding. It was about how young people in a detention centre were helped to learn chess and its value in transforming lives. It was full of feel-good teaching moments.  We got onto discipline and getting children to do the right things.

He asked for my views on what he did regarding spelling: if his child gets her 30 words right each week, he gave her a reward; she could choose. I told him that I did not think that bargains with children were good things for adults to make, because children have different value points and often take an offered deal only for the adult to then not like the outcome, want to change the deal, and then getting angry with the child who had accepted the offer. For instance, parents tell a child to “clean your room, or else”. The child wants to know or else, what. The parent then says “You’re grounded.” The child may be happy with that, especially if it had no desire to go out  and was happy to be locked in the bedroom and left to get on with something like playing games or rearranging toys. Taken. The child does not clean the room. The adult sees this and is angry. “Didn’t I tell you to clean your room?” The child says he/she took the ‘or else’. Thanks. The adult did not get what he or she wanted. The child did. The adult is now frustrated or angry. Children often see things more simply than adults so can be happy with these sorts of negotiations.

But, his deal was not bad. I told him that I do not bargain with my child, but try to get her to see the right thing to do, and figure out how to get there. I have some strong positions, which my child knows. If she wants another position, she approaches her mother. I tell her, however, not to play us against each other. Many children do, successfully, because adults who have not agreed or agree but do not apply consistently, do not go back to each other and renegotiate. The economist in me sees this as an arbitrage situation, which children exploit: Dad wont, Mum will. “Mum!” The parents then get into a spat. The child observes and smiles, and waits for the next opportunity to get this situation going.

We found that our children were both at the recent swim meet for prep and primary aged children. We compared notes about how adults arranged the world of children. His religious training put his at an interesting perspective. Maybe, God would see it fit to help the adults. 🙂

We reached Falmouth, and while the driver loaded and unloaded, the film was paused. We both complained that we had not seen the end: the film was reaching an exciting climax, with the ghetto, one-time gangster, black youth, playing in a test tournament against a well-known, preppy-looking, white elite player. We wanted to see how that ended. We both agreed that if the ghetto youth lost, his life was now on a different and better path, already, and he was likely to stay on that. His coach (Eugene Brown, played by Gooding), had had his life transformed, having spent 18 years in jail on a bank robbery charge.

'Eugene Brown' plays his chess game in jail and would look to get youths to see its value
‘Eugene Brown’ plays his chess game in jail and would look to get youths to see its value

The film restarted as we continued towards Montego Bay. I wont spoil the ending.

As we arrived at the Montego Bay stop in town, we exchanged cards: though retired, I had found that networking in Jamaica works better if I have a card to exchange. I had found a young lady in town who designed and made business cards, amongst other things, and had some prepared. Funnily, I had collected them during the lunch break of the last prep-primary school swim meet. I noticed that his card mentioned everything he did, which including screen printing, though not that he was a Pastor. I smiled to myself. I stayed on the bus to the airport, where I was due to be met by a friend and then taken to watch her husband and my friend play in the national trials.

If you play golf, you think you see the hand of God, or some outside force often. You get those bounces that defy logic and keep your ball in play in better-than-expected positions. You could, of course, just see that as luck, which is in plentiful supply.

The name of some god is often invoked in Jamaica to support positions. I read with much interest a series of articles over the weekend, of which the most fascinating was that by Ian Boyne, whom his employer, The Gleaner, bills as a ‘veteran’ journalist. I always wonder why that is necessary; I think it’s to give a certain gravitas, especially when linked to his working for the Jamaica Information Service. His views are supposed to carry weight, after all of that. His piece had a catchy byline that included the three Bs: bible, bigotry and buggery. Fitting, to go with Boyne. It’s basic point was that for the current arguments against same-sex marriage and ‘normalisation of homosexuality’ must involve ‘destroying’ biblical arguments. It’s a very interesting piece, which I recommend. I’m not going to discuss it here. I just found myself going back over my weekend meetings with the evangelist pastor and his flock of voodoo-inspired Christian folk.

For many, in Jamaica, the debate going on around these subjects are rooted in biblical beliefs. That same set of beliefs guides other attitudes towards certain sexual behaviour in Jamaica. It’s always notable, however, how those same beliefs either get ignored or forgotten when other sexual or more general social behaviour is either discussed or enacted in Jamaica. Most people know that we are a bunch of hypocrites on this. What is perplexing, and I do not pretend to have come up with an explanation that holds for very long, is how we do that. The why is easy. But, the how is really complicated.

Jamaicans’ belief in the Christian god is strong. Their belief in other gods is strong, too, whether they are in the Abrahamic tradition or also from far back but out of many parts deep in African culture. Stronger? The god of the majority is not the god that rules the minds of the majority. One god of the minorities, Jah Rastafari, is very new on the scene, and has visited Jamaica, and has captured the minds of a minority who have ‘sold’ his teachings to the Jamaican majority and far further. Other gods are powerful. More powerful. I now wonder more which god is ruling the minds and hearts of Jamaicans.

I can see that I am not going to have an easy mental week. I was extremely tired heading into last week. Jamaica is mashing up my head, but it’s all in a good cause, I hope. For god’s sake, help me figure out how this country is really thinking.

 

Eyes wide shut

I had an interesting experience last Friday. My daughter was swimming in a national schools meet at the stadium. I’d planned to just watch from the stands; I usually keep time at club meets because it offers the best view of events. However, the school coach volunteered me and another swim parent to volunteer to keep time. We ended up covering the same lane; we were joined by a neighbour of mine. We enjoyed working together.

It was an arduous morning session. The meet had been due to start at 8am. As a good swim parent, my child and I had arrived at 7, for warm up. Delays are common at swim meets. However, this one went overboard. It started with the stalled attempt to get children assembled according to their schools for a procession. Now, Jamaica is a hot country, and at 8 the sun is searing. Nevertheless, the announcer announced and the children slowly understood that they needed to be on the poolside. About 25-30 schools were present. By the time all had assembled and walked the lap of the pool deck, it was approaching 9. The guest speaker spoke; she was not really long-winded but it added time. The children were still in the sun. They were allowed back in the stands after the speech. Soon after 9, the meet began.

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National Aquatic Centre, Kingston: water falling on water during Burger King swim meet

The timekeepers timed and the races went well. After about two hours, someone brought us cups of water. Then, soon after, corned beef sandwiches and a fruity drink. Rain started near noon and the meet ran on despite that. Lunchtime was approaching, and I was trying to arrange my movements: i needed to make a short dash to meet someone who’d just done some business for me. I figured that I would have plenty of time because the organizers had given me and other volunteers a voucher for a Burger King lunch–the sponsors usually help with refreshments in some way.

But, when I mentioned this to my two timekeeping partners, they both said “What lunch?” They hadn’t received vouchers. I decided to try to see what had happened and approached the table where I had signed up and been given my bright yellow “Official” tee-shirt and the voucher before the start of the meet. My fellow school parent had been just behind me when I signed in. She had received her tee-shirt, but nada mas.

I mentioned what had happened to a lady sitting clutching a microphone, next to the representative from Burger King (who had been on a constant promotion of the products once he’d been brought into the show since mid-morning). “We had more volunteers than vouchers,” the lady told me. I had an “And?” moment. No lunches were being offered to those who didn’t have vouchers. This pricked my sense of fairness–a sad legacy of growing up in England, I guess. I told the lady that this was not fair: we had all been on the deck for the best part of six hours in the sun and rain, and deserved to be treated equally. She was not having any of that, and decided to give me the good old cut-eye. I have never been good at letting that pass, and felt a howitzer moment brewing. I told her that if she couldn’t run a meet properly, then it would be better if she left it those who can. I don’t know if she was a YMCA employee, given that they were the meet organizers. I also told her that she’d be quite helpless if the volunteers weren’t willing to stand and fill the jobs that needed to be done; some YMCA youths were also in our body. She remained silent and indifferent. I gave her a last point about her attitude, which I wasn’t going to tolerate.

The meet director asked me to step to one side. He tried to explain to me how things “usually” worked, and that schools “usually” provided lunches. I pointed out that ‘usually’ did not apply because an exception had been made at this meet. We agreed to disagree, and I said that I would not be volunteering during the afternoon. (I had personal reasons: I needed my legs for a weekend tournament.) I related the events to my fellow timekeepers. They were resigned to the situation.

Well after 1pm, the ‘morning’ session ended; we would resume at 2.30. I went in the pouring rain to line up for my BK meal; my fellow timers went off to find lunch elsewhere. I went on my errand and took lunch with me. When I returned, I spent the afternoon mainly in the stands–more important, I was off my feet. The meet went on during the afternoon, and I took my daughter home after it finished, sometime around 6pm. She had missed her 5pm piano lesson, and I called her teacher on the way home to apologize. When we got home, both very tired, we did not waste much time after our baths and a quick dinner and headed to bed. I needed to get a bus at 5am to head to Montego Bay for a golf tournament. My legs were aching badly as I went to bed and I had to use some antiinflammatory ointment.

Over the weekend, my legs worsened. During Saturday’s practice, I needed to use more ointment, and on Saturday evening, my host, a doctor, had given me some other antiinflammatory ointment. I spent the afternoon applying RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) to my knee. I went to bed in a knee brace. By Sunday my knee was swollen and I could barely walk; my knee brace was on all day. I spent the day in a golf cart, limping occasionally to get a better view and being admonished by one of my lady teammates to “Get off your feet, and stay sitting down!” I obeyed, for the most part. Rain washed out the end of morning play, delayed the start of afternoon play, then washed out the whole match. I got a ride home to Kingston, earlier than expected, with another doctor.

By Monday, I had a knee that looked like a water melon. I did without the brace, but was in severe pain whenever I tried to walk. I was due to coach soccer to kindergartners in the afternoon; they run like ferrets and did not need me to be more than patient and funny. I managed to do my half-hour session with them without too much pain. I then collected my daughter from school and waited on her while she had her usual double training session with her swim club. I sat down for most of the 2 1/2 hours she was in the water. By Monday night, the pain was down greatly, and I was able to bend the knee about halfway. By Tuesday morning, the pain was negligible; the knee had more flexibility; and I could walk with only a very slight limp. I needed to practice and planned to just chip and put balls. I surprised myself by walking without pain, and played 9 holes, though a little slower than usual. A Jamaican friend, visiting from the USA, was with me, and she inspired some great shots. I coached soccer with elementary kids at my daughter’s school during the afternoon, not running a lick. They looked at my knee, which was now more like an ogen melon, and compared my swollen knee to the normal one: “Wow! That’s big!” said one of the girls.

The story has several morals. But, I will flag two.

One is a tendency in Jamaica to make children suffer while adults go about their business, blithely ignoring the imposition they are putting on frail young bodies. The announcer gleefully told the spectators that one of the children “was only three” (she might have been five, in fact). It as a meet for preparatory and primary schools, and one of the categories was ‘under 6’. But, here we were having them bleach in the sun for nearly an hour before they were expected to perform athletic events. Duh! The organizers could have just had each school group stand and be recognised where they were installed, and that might have taken at most 10-15 minutes; the speech shortened to 5 minutes, and we save nearly three-quarters of an hour in the baking sun. I spoke to my child’s club coach during the meet and there was a lot of eye-rolling and head-shaking. I don’t want to be insensitive and make a parallel with a tragedy that happened in Montego Bay over the weekend, when twin boys were washed away in a gully and found washed up on a beach yesterday. But, in that tragedy are all the elements of child neglect. The trouble is that Jamaicans are not very honest about this aspect of our society, preferring to see ourselves as loving and caring for children, even though much evidence points the other way. I heard the exasperation in Dionne Jackson-Miller’s voice last evening, during ‘Beyond the headlines’, after listening to an extract of the Minister of Youth and Culture’s contribution to the Budget sectoral debate, which covered the matter of disappearing children. Our focus is on those who return. But, what of those who don’t? She said “We are not serious” about the issues of child abuse and neglect. I, for one, agree, whole heartedly. (There were two distasteful examples of that during the same swim meet, which I have shared with some child care professionals.) We love masquerade.This_Masquerade_by_perfect12386

Another, is an unwillingness to own mistakes and correct them. Instead, we love bluster. I will be aggressive, but I want a result. I don’t do indifference well. Telling me that water is coming through the window and leaving it open because the floor is already wet is another example of the ‘cyan bodda’ (can’t bother) mentality. You have more volunteers than vouchers? Then fix that, and do it openly, or apologize openly to those who are volunteering, even making an offer to sweeten the pill. Instead, we have the ‘just keep your head down’ or ‘don’t move, the wind will stop’ approaches. I see this in many places as an excuse for customer service, so it’s a part of our culture in dealing with problems.

My knee is as old as me, and has been abused by too much sport. Its chronic state is something to manage.

The good, the bad and the ugly (May 4, 2014): What’s government all about edition

Good is that the proposed bank withdrawal tax was withdrawn. I think that episode holds many lessons for Jamaica’s finance minister, the PM and for ministers in general, and I wrote about that earlier in the week. Lots of people commented to me about the effectiveness and simplicity of the tax, but those were also the points of contention, in my mind. I felt, and many comments I heard also from people was that the constant tapping of the low-lying fruit, what I call the ‘hakuna matata’ mentality is just wearing people out.

Bank tax proposal was no laughing matter, really (Courtesy of the Observer.)
Bank tax proposal was no laughing matter, really (Courtesy of the Observer.)

Go after the difficult to catch (and it’s a simmering issue in the matter of dealing with electricity theft), especially those know to be friends and sympathizers. Stop going after the soft options. I think those who have eyes and ears working well will realize that Jamaica has a population that can wrestle with issue and express its opposition without having to mount barricades and torch buildings. The other lesson that was clear was that badly prepared politicians are a sight not pretty to behold. Sorry, to point fingers but the PM and finance minister deserve every squirming minute of agony they get from having to watch video replays of their not-finest moments.

Bad, going on ugly, is the case of the 234 Nigerian school girls who have been abducted.kidnapped girls The latest I read is that US Secretary of State John Kerry has vowed that Washington will do “everything possible” to help Nigeria deal with the armed group Boko Haram, who are the abductors. The kidnapping is wrong on so many levels, and having three daughters makes this situation so very discomforting. Whatever pacifist views I have got stretched to their limits when thinking about how to deal with the perpetrators. Give me strength! I’m curious, though, in all this mess, how the 2014 World Economic Forum on Africa, scheduled for Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, will just roll off like ice on hot metal. Just have to say “Goodluck, Jonathan”.

Ugly goes to the imbroglio–a word that is almost onomatopoeic–about who will be Jamaica’s next energy provider. The energy minister so wants it to be EWI, that’s apparent.

Clovis wasted no time lampooning the minister being lambasted. Lamb to the slaughter? (Courtesy of the Observer.)
Clovis wasted no time lampooning the minister being lambasted. Lamb to the slaughter? (Courtesy of the Observer.)

Why? That’s curious? How? By all means possible, it seems. As with the bank withdrawal tax, the government is seeing a base of support for its action that is absolutely crucial start to walk away at a fast clip. Civil society and private sector groups are saying that they don’t like the odour that is following them around because of the company they keep. It’s part brinkmanship, but it’s also good that bedfellows start to complain when the covers keep getting pulled off the bed. Stop it! Anyway, the story is moving on apace, with a new twist being that some Chinese ‘interest’ is there to help EWI out of its financing predicament: “Chinese suggested that they were willing to work with EWI, and vowed that they could secure the necessary financing from China’s Ex-Im Bank to get the 381-megawatt project going,” was what the Observer reported. Jamaica’s relationship with Chinese investors is another area where government had better watch out for public reactions. 

Representing: You are who you know you are

As I grew up I had to deal with several labels, and still do. I was born in Jamaica, but spent most of my life outside, mainly in England. I speak English with a flat British accent. In the eyes of many people who meet me that ‘makes’ me British. I usually get my hackles up straight away and retort “I’m Jamaican.”

Jamaicans know that the motto ‘Out of many, one people’ has true meaning, even though some of us may not like to deal with what that currently is. We know that colour is hardly what it’s about; neither is ethnic origin’ neither is gender. It’s really about your heart and your spirit. Jamaica has a lot of people who were not born there and embrace the country and its culture with fulsome love.

Children are often very good indicators of some basic truths. Parents will know that children ‘make friends’ easily; we also know that children love to belong–to someone or to something. Those of us who believe that children often stray if they do not have structure around them, tend to want our children close by (belonging to their family, say), or involved in clubs (belonging to other people and groups and organizations). We usually see the benefits of this early, but also know that the benefits can be long-lasting.

My daughter belongs to a swimming club in Jamaica; she joined soon after we arrived on the island last June. She started training with them and spent much of the summer ‘meeting new friends’. The club has two main training bases: one is about five minutes from our home and also across the street from a dear cousin of mine, who cooks to make eyes water; the other is at several sites in Kingston, each about 15-20 minutes drive from my daughter’s school. She chose to train with the multi-site group because it included her new friends; convenience was not in her considerations. I did not mind, because I also liked the group of kids and their parents. The two training groups blend when the club has meets, and they combine to be a real team.

Fast forward. The team is in Orlando, FL, to compete at a meet organized by a school in that area. The team has done this kind of thing before, and I imagine it was successful in many ways. This time, the team has reached out and included some swimmers from other clubs in Kingston. We’re all staying in a vacation resort complex, with rooms that are like little apartments, some adjoining. It’s all cozy and getting more so as we eat communal meals prepared by some of the parents. There’s nothing like having to wade through 20-30 people to get your food to make everyone friendly. The kids are bonding nicely and parents are getting to know each other better as we travel around and have to chaperone more than our own offspring. The competition started yesterday afternoon, for the older kids; the whole team gets into the water from this morning through Sunday afternoon. Wish us well.

But, that bonding is not my main focus. I was in a mall yesterday with the team and then at the poolside in the afternoon. My daughter–the ‘import’, let’s call her, was sporting a black flat bill cap with ‘JAMAICA’ on its front.

Representing...
Representing…

She had come to represent, and was doing so proudly. At the pool side, I noticed several of the kids wearing T-shirts that had some kind of Jamaica motif on them. As the races started and one of our team was in the water, one of the boys whom I’d thought was rather quiet jumped up and started clapping and yelling “Come on…We need to be really Jamaican here!” Several of the children jumped up and started to run along the side of the pool yelling too: “Go! Go!” The other spectators did not seem to be bothered by this. The children had done what they one had suggested: they showed who they are and from where they’d come. No boasting, just pride and pleasure.

Sport, especially at the higher levels, is really about getting to know yourself. You have to examine your ego, your strengths, your weakness; knowing how to control your emotions, your demeanour; balancing your life’s activities, especially the academics and the sporting. Many children come up short because they have physical skills but never master the emotional side of being a good athlete: they get extremely nervous when competing and cannot control those nerves well enough to perform at their best, so their solid training doesn’t translate into great performances. That can be a downward spiral, as poor performances leads to lack of confidence, which leads to more poor performance, etc., and can end with a child quitting. My karate coach once said he’d been told that a black belt was just a white belt (beginner) who never gave up. Great athletes develop way of coping that mean they never give up, sometimes even after all has been lost: “There’s no way that I lost that!”

Some child athletes get their strength and coping skills from their parents or coaches or both; some don’t get anything positive from either or both. They may get negatives from one and positives from another. It’s a complex chemistry. However, my experience is that positive parents tend to gravitate towards positive coaches or coaching, and the blend tends to be happy and accommodating and supportive OF THE ATHLETE, not the adults. I wont go into the vicarious living of adults through their children 🙂

When I watch, in my role as parent, I have a thin line to avoid crossing because I am also a coach, though not necessarily in this sport or of these children. I try to stay in my place. But, I am always on the look out for the signs that the emotional side of an athlete is fraying on ‘game day’. We all have nervousness; I was told it showed we cared. We have to harness it, though. Some have to throw up or suffer diarrhea, or break out in hives, or sweat profusely, or chatter incessantly. There are many signs. Some of the signs are well-known to the athlete and their peers; some are well-known to the parents and coaches; some are hidden. Some like to pretend: they fake fear of opponents as a way of putting themselves as underdogs and then doing well and seeming like ‘giant killers’–it’s an ego booster. Some like to brag: usually, they ‘can walk the walk and talk the talk’; they are winners par excellence. Some fear losing so badly that it can cripple them or they channel that into excelling (Nadal is one of the best modern examples). Some have to ‘get out of themselves’, doing seemingly goofy things and being a little extrovert–it’s diversion. Whatever, it is, it’s there.

Sometimes, however, the best way is to ‘drape yourself in the flag’, including showing your national colours however you can.

You are who you know you are
You are who you know you are

I’ve noticed that when given a chance, athletes will love to represent who they feel their nation is. “We are the best!” “Let’s show those [fill the gap with a nation] what we can do!” It seems normal, really, that you should try to draw strength from a collective, and often the best and biggest is your country. It need not be done with brashness, as is often the case now in international competitions. But, it is done. Humming your national anthem, if it is not played. Acting ‘like’ whatever your country represents. In this case, I was seeing lots of ‘let’s be Jamaican’. All pride, no shame. It was really inspiring. It was maybe too subtle to be offensive, even though it was noticeable. We are a small group set amongst other teams. Dare I say, once again, “We likkle but we tallawah!”

 

 

 

 

 

What would Gandhi do? Women and role models

A lot of comments I’ve seen in recent days about women and their lack of progress in certain areas have touched on the ‘lack of good role models‘. I’m bothered.

Maybe my position is extreme, but why do we need role models for everything? If you see something to which you aspire, is the argument that you cannot go for it unless you see that someone (like you, presumably) has gone there already? Is there a fear that is larger that comes from being a pioneer?

I thought quickly back to some Jamaicans who have done without ‘appropriate’ role models. Who inspired Jamaica’s Iditarod competitor?

Newton Marhall, Iditarod musher
Newton Marshall, Iditarod musher

We can ask the same question about the now-famed Jamaican bobsledders.

Of course, we can look back and see people like ourselves who have achieved great things, but is our only inspiration that ‘someone has beaten the path before me’?

Maybe, and maybe we will be great followers and not great leaders.

Who inspired Mary Seacole, to head from Jamaica to the Crimea to tend British soldiers during the Crimean War in the 1850s? But, if she is not a role model, then who is or will be?

Who inspired the first woman astronaut? Now that there are several, are many more women flocking to head off into space or train as aeronautical engineers?

Women in space, serving together on the International Space Station on April 14, 2010
Women in space, serving together on the International Space Station on April 14, 2010

Is it that we have to see success before we try to succeed? We cannot tolerate the failure of others and see anything for us in the challenge of trying to succeed?

Yes, there are barriers, some natural, some artificial (literally, man-made). We refuse to go past those or see them as insurmountable?

We think those who have gone there before have paved a smooth path? Think again. Many who have trodden the path do little or nothing to facilitate the way for others behind, even blocking. That’s part of the human condition. Not nice to admit, but real enough.

My daughter keeps asking me who will she be like when she grows up, her mother or her father? I say, “You’ll be you. Maybe looking like a mix of us, but maybe not.” Children get inspiration from their parents and other adults, from their peers and their siblings (older and younger), from some fictional and real characters that they encounter in books, or on television or films or on the radio.

Adults should have already gone through their early stages of inspiration by the time they reach that stage. But, can still be open to much inspiration from many sources.

Some adults seem conflicted: telling children to believe “Yes, you can,” then taking the line for themselves “No, I can’t,”.

I often end up citing Gandhi’s ‘be the change’ quotation, but this time I will go to the verifiable remark:

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

He wasn’t killed…this time

Child abuse haiku:

Lick ‘im! Fling di stone!
‘im nah move? Mi t’ink ‘im dead.
Is yu fling di stone.

Based on five primary school children ‘playing’ in a car park, yesterday. My daughter and I were running errands to get her supplies for a school project. We came across a group of children walking from school, romping in the car park. But, it was clear that two boys were having a little dispute. They chased each other, using the three girls as shields. Then one boy picked up a large stone, waited then flung it at the other. It missed. boys throwing stones

I’m not shy of using ‘teaching moments’. “What did you just do?” I asked the thrower. “‘im start it…” I interrupted with “What did YOU just do?” He said he had thrown the stone at the boy. I told him to go and pick it up. One of the girls started to laugh. I told her “YOU let him throw the stone. If he had hit the other boy and cut his head, then you should feel that you let him do that.” She shuffled.

I told them to put down the stone and go on home. If I saw them again acting that way I would walk them to the police station–it’s about a quarter-mile away.

The security guard standing by the pharmacy entrance looked on, seemingly unconcerned. I had no idea what was going through his mind.

We adults are great facilitator for children. I, helping my child get something done in school. I cannot speak for the other adults in the lives of those children. Without getting too moralist, we turn a blind eye to problems in their infancy, so to speak, then wonder where the big problems come from.