The Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP) held its annual Living Legacy Award yesterday in COVID19 fashion as a PBCJ TV and Facebook broadcast, not its traditional lunch and presentation ceremony. This year’s award went to Oliver Samuels for 50 years of entertainment; he turned 70 in 2018.
He was also given gifts of tablets to donate by Ambassador Aloun Assamba, a former CCRP board member:
Former board member of @ccrpjamaica@hcassamba is happy to gift tablets to Oliver Samuels (a @coksodality member!) for him to donate to his favorite charity. CCRP celebrates Oliver this afternoon with a Living Legacy Award and gifts from sponsors – oh, and a great Miss Lou song! pic.twitter.com/VqG4lRtdde
Many of us will have our favourite ‘Oliver at Large’ moments, but the TV shows meant more than that to me. My family and I watched his TV shows in England and they were another strand keeping us connected to Jamaica from a distance. His brand of humour was priceless and that cultural role was immeasurable. He is a fan favourite in the UK, where he tours, regularly.
I love ‘It must be a duppy’:
Flight 007 is another favourite episode and I’ve rewatched clips from it regularly over the past years:
I was also lucky enough to see Oliver perform in one of his plays on stage in Jamaica; belly cramp was well established.
Oliver recently lent his voice and style to the general hygiene messages about living with COVID19:
Well before nomination day on August 18, the literal tenor of the election campaign has changed. Talk about ‘follow fashion’! Dub plates are dropping like flies. I don’t know if I can keep up. But, here’s another selection from yesterday.
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, governmentmust 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.
A few days ago, I wrote a post, entitled ‘Jamaicans are selfish and often rewarded for it‘. My main point was that ‘Driven by the urge to be selfish, people act in a way that gives them what they want, and really do not anticipate negative consequences, in part, because they rarely come into play.’ But, I also find that the unanticipated negative consequences are often not seen as the fault of those who acted selfishly, but due to some other factor, such as the ‘wickedness’ of other people, or ‘just how the big people act’. Jamaica is little stories.
Yesterday, I was trying my best to get a small white ball into a hole a little bigger than it. I wanted to do this so badly that I agreed with a friend to go out at 6am with him and his daughter. Actually, she had to go to a class just after 10, so this was a good way to achieve that and avoid doing the little bally thing afternoon, when the heat is likely to be high. Contrary to the usual pattern, we were met with sheet lightning, and went out gingerly. It was a nice walk, not totally spoiled for my friend and me, and certainly not spoiled for his daughter, who hits the ball miles. We finished in good time and they went off to class. I hung around the scoring area and had some refreshments and chatted with a few other people who were milling around. I then went home to cool off and change and get ready to go back for lunch, which was included in the tournament entrance fee.
Back I went for my lunch, and it was worth the effort. I waited for friends who had started later, and when they arrived, I recommend they have the lunch. They did, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Other players came in and ordered their meals, and they came…for some. The dreaded had happened. The food had run out! What!? How could that be?
Well, the answer’s not that complicated. Many Jamaicans, including golfers, won’t commit to an event in advance, and expect to still be able to express their interest at the last moment, without disappointment. So, if you have parties, or entertainment events, where people are encouraged to reply early whether or not they will attend, replies are often late or not at all. People then arrive at ‘the gate’, expecting to enter and have a good time. Often, a good time is had by the patrons. But, the organisers have a nightmare.
In this case, it’s quite normal for a caterer, without firm numbers of people to serve, will err on the side of caution, assume a number like 50, and prepare accordingly. At the worst, they may figure, you will have people who don’t want the food, or people who will be happy with any food (even if not the gourmet offering). That’s manageable, and avoid waste of higher costs ingredients. So, it was. The lucky ones, like me, ate Spanish rice, curried goat, baked barbecued chicken, salad and a slice of pear.
The less lucky ones got a burger and fries, with a piece of lettuce and tomato. Let’s not ask how they enjoyed that.
But, rather than see the fault for this in themselves, what do some Jamaicans do? They look to blame someone else. It just so happens that yesterday was the funeral of former Minister of Agriculture, Roger Clarke. In no time, word was that the food meant for the golfers’ lunch had been diverted to the funeral reception. Now, I don’t know if that’s true, but in the world of rumours, that was a plausible one. It may be better to feed hungry mourners than a bunch of good-for-nothing golfers.
We may not be unique in this behaviour, but we add a certain flourish.
I’ve spent the past week in France, with a family I first met several years ago in Guinea, west Africa. It’s really been a great time, spent mostly lazing around, eating, watching World Cup football, exchanging thoughts, and taking some little tours. The trip was largely to get my daughter a little immersion in French life and language: she did very well, including leading the way for a day eating waffles and crèpes, finished off by a long bike ride through the old town centre.
She got the chance to see how French people spend their Sundays in the summer: lazing on the beach, sitting in the park, playing in the park and at little squares, walking and talking.
I am always looking around at how life is lived. In France, it is hard to avoid seeing how orderly life seems to be. France is laid out very carefully, and villages and towns tend to feel much the same because many elements are controlled at the national level. Each town may have its own flair but there is a certain conformity that exists. You take a trip and road signs guide you clearly to small towns or larger towns and cities. You arrive at a place and you get a sign for centre ville (town centre), and you can then find your bearings to parking, or commercial areas, or open space. I contrasted that with Jamaica, where you may get no signs at all for long distances and may miss the town centre for want of any signs.
Our ride in from the semi-rural suburb to the town centre was eye-opening in terms of how a town can be laid out to make it easy to move around on foot or by vehicle or on a bike. There are paved pathways everywhere, and we could take several and meander our way into the town centre. We took a route that brought us through a park, where people were lazing on the grass, playing pick-up football, playing boules, walking dogs and children. It was all very clean and well-kept, even in a wild, rustic way because areas were left that way for ‘bio diversity’ (a sign told me); Contrast that with Jamaica. We let people create pathways by the sheer numbers who walk a route and wear out the grass so that a dirt trail is visible and becomes the route of choice. We tend not to have open space for lazing around and simple recreation. The space around Devon House and Hope Gardens, in Kingston, are rare exceptions. People tend to just hang around on a road or on a street corner.
Jamaicans do not seem to take great pride in keeping their spaces clean. I often see people sweeping streets early in the morning, but piles of garbage, especially with discarded plastic items, are part of the Jamaica scene. Even in so-called ‘upscale’ communities, we would not be surprised to see the small piles. Sometimes, they are worse and include items such as discarded household appliances.
Social order in France is different. It is not always clearly visible. French public sector workers, for example, love to exercise their rights to withdraw labour. So, French railway workers were on strike when we arrived. We had concerns about getting from Paris to our destination further south, but our train ran on time, as did many others that day. The ticket inspectors on the trains did nothing, however, to check that passengers had paid. So, I then felt aggrieved that I had bothered to order tickets online from Jamaica and print them off at the airport. My friend had to go to Paris one day during our visit, and he had the same experience, but he and most passengers travelled for free because they could not buy tickets at the stations. The railway workers are public servants. My friend complains that there are too many fonctionaires, and they are a public burden for all of their working lives and retirement. But, they are part of France’s broad state coverage.
I’ve not seen any major strike during the past year in Jamaica. I’ve read about and heard stories of public workers taking money from the bus company and running all manner of schemes to line their pockets. I’ve seen a few, scattered protests. (Just to complete the context, I’m headed to London today and read that British airways cabin staff will strike from tomorrow, so the private sector worker flexing her/his muscle may grab me in England.) I have suffered, however, by a public sector that does not seem to be very effective or efficient. Services in Jamaica suffer from decades of neglect and underinvestment.
We reap that now with uncertain water supplies, for example. That’s life critical; train travel is not. I see the mess that is public road repairs. Dig up; patch up; wash away; dig up again; patch up again. Only a hard-headed idiot would think this is anything but rank stupidity or the effect of a permanent piece of bandoolism taking money out of the public’s collective pocket.
Go to almost any French town and you will find municipal camping; it’s now less than it was. But, you could arrive almost anywhere, up to about 9pm at night, and find a camp site. True, you needed a tent to pitch, but you could bathe, and sleep easily for a small amount. That’s not a part of our life style. Period. We stop on the roadside and sleep in the car or van, if needed. Our country is small enough that we can complete most trips easily within a day. France is huge, by contrast.
France has a massive tourism market. It is based largely on French life and history, of which there is very much to see and share. Town that have survived for over a thousand years are common. Physical structures that have long history are part of the national treasure.
Jamaica has very little history, and for many, it reflects aspects that create discomfort because it reflects our past slavery. But, attractive buildings should not be discarded, in my view: we can tell the stories for our future generations to better understand. I’m one who would work hard to see restored our many old great houses or parts of sugar plantations or our mundane-looking railway stations. We would get a better-looking country in the bargain. French people tour their own country to sample its history; foreigners do the same. It helps to have land borders to ease the movement.
France shows the results of having national visions and putting the pieces in place to achieve them. France has nuclear energy as a major pillar of its power generation. Popular or not, it’s there: France, therefore, focuses on threats to its supplies or uranium. France has grasped the importance of energy conservation and environmental protection. You see many reminders of how to save energy. You see many places to dispose of items so that they can be recycled: elegant shells placed on corners to take glass, plastic, or paper recyclable material. In the home, people dispose of their rubbish with an eye to where it will go next. We have Riverton dump. We pile garbage up in racks or bins, all items mixed together, in shiny plastic bags. Our streets are littered with those bags, and styrofoam boxes, mainly because we just do not have enough places for trash and then do not clear them regularly. I have not seen one styrofoam box on a road, or a plastic bag flying around. The French use plastic bags; I went to the supermarket, and used them. Food to take away is served also in styrofoam boxes, sometimes. But, the French are better at disposing of their rubbish and clearing the places used for that. It was not always so; progress from lessons learned and provisions made to help change habits. Suffice to say, the French do not now have the same eyesores as Jamaicans.
I shouldn’t dwell on economic policy, but I will just glide over it. France is a large, open economy, within a common currency area, the European Union. It is not a new thing and took decades to reach where it is. One aspect of that is the existence of a common currency, the Euro, which is used in the whole area. It is a freely traded currency and is relatively stable in value. France is not under an IMF programme and can borrow freely from private financial markets, if it wishes. People in France or the wider EU area do not obsess about the level of the exchange rate. Jamaica is an economy that has suffered decades of mismanagement and has an exchange rate that is now reflecting that accumulated effect–it’s sliding constantly. It’s never a good idea to try to pick a bottom for an exchange rate, so more slide is likely than less. We depend heavily on foreign assistance, in part because we became dependent on foreign goods but could not produce enough to pay for them. French people wander the world with pockets and bank accounts full of Euros, using cash freely if they travel within the EU, or checks and credit cards within the area or further abroad. Money, in that sense, is no problem. I have about JD 1000 in my wallet because I know it’s of no value outside Jamaica and despite the high denominations of our money, it is worth very little.
But, both countries are full of silly people. Jamaicans love to stand up for indefensible idiocy in the name of following rules. France, too, has that condition, but with a nice accent. I went to the supermarket the other evening to get some French food items to carry to a friend in London. I went to the self-service cashier and started to scan my items. The laser beeped and the register showed my purchases. I got my total and popped out my credit card to use. The machine only accepted cards with a little chip in them–a security feature that has been in Europe for a few years, now. No go. The machine had a slot for swiping a card, though. I tried that. No go. A supervisor came over and looked at the card. No go. We asked about swiping. “I’m not allowed to do that,” she said. We all looked puzzled. We guessed she did not know how to make that work, or had missed the training session. She shrugged her shoulders and walked way. My friends and I rustled together some cash and I paid. I could have just bundled the items into our bags and walked out, there was no checker. We scratched our heads. Jamaica’s “that’s how we do it” would not be out-of-place.
I’ve loved being in a totally different language and thinking space for a few days.
You get to think about your own cultural biases well when they are not around you, but seen from afar. By comparison to Jamaica, France is much more tolerant of different life styles; that need not be limited to sexual preferences (one of Jamaica’s current hobby horses). French people greet each other with kisses, as well as handshakes; everyone kisses on the cheek, despite gender or age. It’s the French way, and is seen in French-speaking countries over the world. French men kissing each other are not homosexuals; they’re French. French men kissing young girls are not pedophiles; they’re French. It’s not a big deal.
I discussed with my friends what their children (two in their 20s and one still a teenager) were doing. One had graduated as an engineer, but did not want to pursue that as a career; he was working at a KFC and trying to figure out what to do next; his girlfriend is a biology graduate and working in another field. Another, went to university for a year but was not liking it, so went into the fire service and is happily training in that field, focusing on first-aid and ancillary services: according to local rules, her fire station does not allow her to drive fire engines, so she’s on a path that avoids that. The youngest is studying law at university, working in a restaurant part-time. Like most young people, they enjoy their fun and going out, within limits. They are all close to their parents, the two youngest still living at home, happily. We talked about graffiti–a feature of French urban spaces. We talked not much about politics, except about the shared curse of corruption. We talked a lot about travel to Jamaica–they had planned to visit earlier this year, but things had not worked out. We talked a lot about our languages: my daughter understands French quite well, and was getting braver and speaking more. She went shopping and managed well in the store; she’s only 10, and has to deal with language difference and age differences. I helped my hosts through many minefields in English, which they may be able to remember when I’m gone but maybe not. We had fun learning the differences between English words that sound alike but have different meanings, such as bubble, bobble, babble and bauble; as well as the chestnuts, there, their, they’re. We had fun with “ice cream” and “I scream”. French has its prickly language patches, too: my daughter played with sens (smell), sans (without), cent (100), s’en (within).
We had a great time Sunday afternoon, watching some people play boules, a form of bowling, played outdoors on a gravelly dirt space. They were having a few drinks (beers, pastis, sodas with syrup) and smoking the obligatory cigarettes. They wanted to let us pass on our bikes, but we explained that we had come to watch. “It’s a major championship, you know,” one man slurred. A young lady came to ask my daughter if she was American; my French disguised my origins well enough. We joked about her staying in France to go to school. We watched the throwing of metal balls and the ribald jockeying for about 15 minutes. It was a nice slice of life: simple, inclusive, happy. Jamaicans would be playing dominoes and having their glasses of rum or a beer. My daughter covered her nose as the smoke of cigarettes hit her. Jamaica has taken a step forward that France has not yet taken, with its ban on smoking in public spaces. We can learn much from France, but we have a few lessons to offer.
I left my friends a jar of jerk seasoning; it’s been at the dining table every day as a dipping sauce; it’s very popular. I showed the fire fighter how to cook porridge: she normally ate her oats with cold milk.
Life’s not really that complicated, sometimes, if you are open to what others have to offer.
I was shocked how little time it took for me to shed Jamaican characteristics and adopt English ones. My daughter and I had checked in for our flight to London, and been given access to the airport lounge. Once there, we began hearing those well-known English tones and expressions. “It ain’ long till ve flite, Jo’n…”…”I kno’, I kno’…” I was looking forward to a few days in France and passing through London first and later was going to be interesting. Once we got onto the plane, England came out to the full. A team of rugby players was boarding and I was glad that we did not have to compete for space with their burly bodies. The British Airways crew was as pleasant as I recall. Within minutes, we were offered some cold drinks. I used to enjoy the luxury of champagne or wine when I did this sort of travel for business. Now, that I am teetotal, I settle for water or tonic water. I looked longingly at the Bellinis that were on offer. “You awright, luv?” the attendant asked; my eyes might have looked misty.
We went through the process of loading the plane. “Where do they ‘ave ve seat numbers?” a young lady asked. I pointed above my seat. She was in 37 something, and I pointed her toward the back of the plane. A lady sitting across the aisle from me was in the wrong seat and had to move. She went about 6 rows back. What is the similarity between 11 and 17? I couldn’t fathom it. “Wanna cuppa tea, dear?” came another attentive question. I didn’t really, but was pleased to be asked and accepted. My daughter was fiddling with all the gadgetry in her seat and trying to make it turn into a bed. I just let the fatigue flow over me. I asked if I could start the film before takeoff and was told I could. I started watching ‘Saving Mr. Banks‘, about Walt Disney’s efforts to negotiate the rights for Mary Poppins. We were soon ready for take off, and had to pause the movie. I listened to the safety instructions. My ears were already adjusting from Patois to mainly London accents.
The flight was really uneventful. I had made similar so many times in my working life.
I had told my daughter that I usually fell asleep within minutes of take off, and the way I felt, that was likely again. She was not bothered. We got into our films as we enjoyed our in-flight snacks and then the dinner. “Oh, real plates, Daddy!” It was real food, too. I started chuckling a lot as I went on with the movie. I then went into full-scale laughter as I watched a second film, ‘A long way down‘, a black comedy about four would-be suicide attempts that coincide on a tower roof, and how they become friends. A wacky plot, but one that worked well.
Fatigue took over and I had to crash after that second film. I wanted my daughter to sleep too: it was a nine-hour flight, so plenty of sleep time was available. Most people had already put their heads down.
Refreshed, after a few hours sleep, we were heading into England. “You reddy fer brekfas’?” I was asked. I was. “We’ve got smoovies and fruit.” I asked about a full English breakfast. “You get dat on ‘e way back, but we ‘ave bacon sand’iches,” I heard. I could handle that. I told my daughter about places in London where you could go for a full breakfast in a market area, and have a few beers before heading off to work in The City. I used to love the Fox and Anchor’s offering.
I had already been given instructions by some Jamaicans who used to live in London that I should bring them back steak pies and eat fish and chips for them. I was looking forward to fulfilling my task. Or was it filling fully that I had to do?
Our tired bodies were glad to land and get out of the compressed atmosphere of the plane. We enjoyed the long walk to Immigration, to stretch our legs. We got through Immigration quickly and our bags arrived in no time. We needed to switch from Gatwick to Heathrow to continue to France. We negotiated the tickets and waited for the bus to arrive. We were surrounded by hordes of Spanish school children, and the sense of Europe was very present.
Our bus came and we had our bags loaded and took some of the front seats. My daughter wanted to get a full view of the ride. We both loved the rolling hills of the Surrey countryside, as we headed along the motorway (M23) near Gatwick. “I wish I could live in a farmhouse like that,” came a request. “May we live in England after Jamaica?” came the follow-up request. I love the English countryside and explained how many places have planted wild flowers near roadways to encourage bees and butterflies. I got no reply as my buddy had fallen asleep again. We rolled off the bus at Heathrow, and rechecked our luggage, and headed through security again. We could use ‘Fast Track’ and it was hi-tech: scan the boarding pass to get access, scan it again before loading the belt: ‘Thank you’ and a big smile appeared on the machine. My daughter wanted to scan again for another smile. We loaded the belt. One checker, wearing a turban, asked me about my two bottles of rum that I had bought in Kingston. “Vey carn go as ‘and luggig!” We then had a short discussion with his supervisor. Bottom line was that I needed to put the bottles into a bag and have it checked. Another checker escorted me back to check-in and my bag and ‘fragile’ contents were taken. (It seems that Jamaica has not complied with new rules on how liquids bought in duty-free should be packed for travel.) Crisis averted.
We were ready for a long lay over before heading on to France. My daughter saw a lady offering samples of Cadbury’s chocolates and we had to have some. I asked the lady if she remembered how suggested the Flake adverts had been. She did. We left it there.
So, here we are. In Europe. My daughter loves the grey, cool weather: “I wont sweat here!” The sky is cloudy and it’s windy. It’s almost summer, after all.
Europeans and Caribbean people are about as far apart as any two groups. You can tell how people think by what gets reported and how in the newspapers. Suffice to say that the front page of The Times has news about an embattled government minister, a picture of Prince George and his mother, and the Chinese PM’s mission to London to show Britain the ‘real China’. The back page is all about England’s World Cup match against Uruguay. Strangely, no stories about ‘gay thugs’ or supposed shortage of IV fluids.
I’m always fascinated what happens when I travel. Do the problems in my home country follow me, or do I become immersed in the issues of the place to where I’ve travelled? My home is on my back. Dr. Peter Phillips and his proposed bank tax is being discussed at the poolside while my daughter has early morning swim practice. The virtues of patois and its richness are giving myself and the other fathers and brothers plenty to chew on. We hope to chew on more when we see our kids finish in the pool, and enjoy what some of the mothers are preparing.
One of the coaches took to his room last night some cinnamon buns from the restaurant where we had a pizza buffet dinner; he had study to do and needed his extra food. This morning, I asked if he’d eaten the buns for breakfast. He looked at me as if I was mad. I understood. “You wan’ hol’ a plate o’ salt mackerel an’ bwoil banana,” He nodded. We travel and need our place holders in life to keep us together. Food is one of those. People who have not travelled may not understand how important ‘home cooking’ is. That’s why international teams travel with their kitchen staff; that also avoids some of the nasty tricks that unscrupulous hosts can try. Been there, suffered that.
Why am I in Orlando? It’s for a school swim meet. Some of our club’s swimmers are in Aruba, for the Carifta 2014 games, and doing very well. Their team mates who did not make the national team either because their performances are not yet up to standard, or are too young, still have to ‘work on their game’. I’ve written before about the value of sport for youth development. When you see a group of children working hard to better themselves, with good guidance and care from adults and each other, you have to wonder how social problems persist. But, some children do not get that guidance and care–simple.
So far, America’s problems have not featured in my thoughts. I have not watched any TV and not seen a local paper. I am still following the Budget discussions in Jamaica. Although, I did not hear Andrew Holness give his presentation yesterday, I followed it on Twitter and through his postings there and on Facebook. Social media are getting a good work out this week as a place for Jamaicans to have their big discussions. I have a view that better governance will come from this, once we get over the challenge of some public servants resisting demands for better information and more open discourse on subjects. We also see that the country has many voices that want to be heard and also people with heads that can think their way through issues, without immediately reverting to the tired and tiring jabs that come from partisan politics.
One of our group had problems with US Immigration at the airport: he’d lost his passport years ago and since that keeps featuring in the US’s security screening processes. He had to go through a four-hour wait in ‘secondary inspection’ yesterday afternoon–sounds like the meat packing business, and he says they made people feel like livestock. So our on-time arrival turned into a very late departure from the airport. By the time we got to our lodgings it was night, and by the time we checked in and ate a wonderful (I’m being ironic here, because we had eaten really wonderful food from Island Grill before we left) pizza buffet, it was very late. A quick trip to a dollar store for essentials like water, eggs, toothpaste, body wash, sunglasses that were marked ‘Made in China’, waffles and syrup, had all the kids excited
. We then played ‘chicken’ crossing the busy six-lane highway. “Dis is not Jumayka. Dem will run you down!” one boy said as he traipsed across the road and car headlights closed in. The children got to bed around 11pm, and some in my room did not get to sleep till way after midnight. Now, they are getting a refreshing work out, with a 7.30am start. Not ideal. But, the meet starts at 5pm today, and they need to be prepared. The team’s head coach told the children last night that when they returned to Jamaica and were met at the airport by reporters that they ought to be able to say proudly what they had done, rather than come with a string of excuses about a poor performance.
The day will have some good downtime for us all after breakfast. I suspect that many will to hit the malls; one is just across a busy highway from our hotel. I would like to play a little golf, and I understand that a course is just 10 minutes walk away.
How ironic. We’re listening to piped music at the pool side…and it’s reggae, and mento. Gwendolyn, pass the smelling salts! But, why should surprised when on our way from the airport I saw a bill board advertising Red Stripe.
Earlier this week, my daughter and I were listening to the radio on our way to swimming practice. I was listening to Irie FM’s ‘The Art of War’, hosted by Mutabrauka. Muta is always prodding us to think about what we do and say. You don’t have to agree with his views or arguments, but be engaged and provoked. He mentioned how some Jamaicans have an odd logic. For instance, he noted how people will throw trash in the roads and say that’s the right thing to do, otherwise garbage collectors wont have work to do. Yes, the trasher has a point, but misses a point. Muta also said that Jamaicans wont walk to a crossing when the place to which they want to go is directly across street. True, and the way our society is physically laid out that has a lot of sense. You can’t fault the logic, but it poses problems for the rest of us that people think in such a way.
But, the odd thinking is not confined to Jamaica. A friend posted on Facebook the following account: ‘I met a lady yesterday in the bank who said she voted against the FNM referendum in 2002 to give Bahamian women the same rights as Bahamian men, and when the PLP bring it she will vote NO again! I was confused and could not understand why women continue to vote against their best interest. So I asked Why? She said “It’s not about my daughters, it’s my sons…this is the only place in the world my sons have an advantage over other men when it comes to employment for the high-paying jobs and I plan to keep it that way! My daughter marry some “high hot shot man” and he comes and take my son job from him….HELL NO!” The logic we use sometimes…..gets me everytime!’ Many commentators took the woman in the story to task about her lack of foresight, insight, etc. but, that’s how she sees the world.
In Jamaica, people often talk about ‘the system’ or ‘Babylon’ and how it oppresses. Some of what people use for reasons and reasoning come from interesting places in their physical and emotional lives. We know that people with eyes too close together are…
We know that religious conviction can lead some into ways of thinking that defy sense for many of us. I am not going to tackle any individual’s view on religion, but some of the thinking leaves me gasping, and it’s often more disturbing because the people concerned clearly do not hear or listen to the voices and opinions of others.
Muta was also interviewing a pastor, in relation to new efforts by the national bus company to improve service by imposing its already existing ban on people preaching on buses. The pastor argued that he was spreading the word of God and that those who did not want to hear it would suffer, etc. He also saw no problem with disturbing the peace of those who were on the bus for their journey. If they did not want to hear him preach, they could get off the bus and take another. Muta tried to get the preacher to see that as being unreasonable: people were not on the bus for sermons, but to try to get to work or home or play. Why should they have to use hard-earned and scarce money to avoid something they had not bargained for or demand? The pastor was unmoved.
I did some quick unscientific research, and searched Twitter using ‘Jamaican logic’ as my terms. I found the following:
‘Drink tea. Broke your leg? Drink tea. Just got HIV? Drink tea.’ Some joked about the naiveté of Jamaicans, for instance, with a meme that showed people lined up at a polling booth to vote for a TV show–not knowing that there are many different types of votes and places to make them. Funny, but…We get the point.
The logic is clearly not that just exercised by people who live cut off from the rest of society. I read a short story this morning about children growing up in Jamaica in the 1950s, and how they would hide in the bushes when they heard a car approaching. They had seen few cars, but were afraid that they would be kidnapped and taken away by pirates to be slaves. Oh, the mind of a child, we think.
Jamaica has a very colourful and voluble MP, Everald Warmington. He thinks in a very different way to many and has little hesitation in sharing his thoughts. He has just proposed that registered voters who fail to exercise their franchise be required to pay approximately $705 (US$7) each, back the national Treasury. There are 1.7 million people on the voters’ list. Only 52 per cent of the electorate voted in the last general election, which ‘cost’ $1.2 billion. “If you have 48 per cent stay-home-and-don’t-vote, you need to establish a system where that 48 per cent pay back to the Consolidated Fund the amount that it costs.” Mr. Warmington does not entertain the idea that in a democratic society not voting is a legitimate option at elections. He feels that whatever the choices available people should vote. Some have said that ‘write in’ votes could deal with people’s dislike of the options for candidates; in other words, spoil the ballot, but turn out and vote, anyway. Mr.Warmington also does not see that persons like himself may be the reason some do not vote. He may not see the logic that says people may actually not approve of the government spending money on electoral systems ahead of spending money on say health and education or sanitation. Some people feel that ‘bad’ politicians should also look to pay back the nation. The parties are engaged as I write.
My simple suggestion to Mr. Warmington would be a first step for Jamaica to change its voting system. Now, if one party gets 51% of the vote in every constituency it ends up with ALL of the seats, all of the representatives, even though the nation said there’s only a small margin more in favour of that party. The ‘winner takes all’ system is patently unfair and unrepresentative. Add to that, clear evidence that MPs are vindictive or favour their supporters rather than the opposition, and we have plenty to concern us. Maybe, we should move to proportional representation, where at least the balance of support is reflected. If we try something like that and the numbers who vote remain low, then we can think about what else is wrong. But, now, we have a broken system and also a set of candidates that clearly does not get much support from a large swathe of the nation. But, that’s just my crazy logic at work.
We have to accept that we do not all think alike. What we find odd in the way some think may not have much impact, if we feel that the views are limited. We have no way of really controlling how people process the world they experience and translate that into how they should react and live their lives. Those of us who have received well a lot of education may lament and hold our heads in our hands and wonder what to do with ‘these people’. We have to get on with them. We may be the ones who have gotten it wrong.
I believe that many lessons may be drawn from the recent murder case involving Adidja Palmer (aka ‘Vybz Kartel’) and four other defendants. Everyone who had some notion of the case is likely to have an opinion about what went on before, during and after it. Thankfully, we have a democratic society with a good amount of freedom of speech, so everyone is entitled to his or her opinion and should express it if he or she so desires. I am not going to go to a place where many will travel–putting the case into some context that suggests it is the pinnacle of a great change in Jamaican society, even if I wish that change would hurry up and come. I prefer to make some simpler points.
Adidja Palmer can be separated from Vybz Kartel (VK) in our minds
, but it is very hard to see them as separate in body. Whatever we think that VK did, we have to ask ourselves what embodiment went with the action. The singing and dancing and writing of lyrics under the stage name ‘Vybz Kartel’ were a turning point in the development of Adidja Palmer. At a certain stage, Palmer got left behind and Vybz took over in the public’s consciousness. Vybz then had great success, was heralded for his ‘iconic’ lyrical and musical gifts. He showed he had a great understanding of the society in which he lived. He developed trappings of power, even naming his organization ‘Empire’–which seems grandiose, but money and power tend to do that to people’s self-perception. He began associating with richer people and people in different walks of life who wielded power. He was able to send his child to a private school. He created Street Vybz Rum. He hosted a weekly dance party Street Vybz Thursday. He got fame in a big way. hosted his own reality television show “Teacha’s Pet” on CVM Jamaica broadcast channel, the first reality television show hosted by a dancehall artist in Jamaica. He was a full-blown celebrity. He spoke at UWI, at the invitation of Professor Carolyn Cooper: he got academic approval, of sorts. He established his own label Adidjahiem/Notnice Records. He was ‘Mr. Business and Mr. Music’.
Still, Vybz Kartel was showing signs of a less-than perfect person. He got into disputes with fellow musicians. He gained notoriety for his lyrics, which contained obscene and violent references. He was banned from the airwaves; he also was banned from performing in some countries. He faced charges in 2011 for murder, conspiracy to murder and illegal possession of a firearm; he was bailed in that case but kept in jail on another murder charge , concerning the death of Clive ‘Lizard’ Williams(for which he was just being tried).
While Vybz was feeling his vibes, Adidja was somewhere else, some would have us believe. Perhaps, in the evening, a man in felt bedroom slippers and a warm cup of cocoa would pull out a copy of The Bible and read some verses. Maybe, he lamented what had happened to put him in the background and let Vybz get all the light. This is pure speculation, of course. Alternatively, Adidja was fully aware of who and what Vybz was, and the persona was just a front behind which the real, living Palmer could masquerade.
I had an interesting time with some ladies yesterday, while we discussed this topic. Here was my postulation. Imagine that a man looking like Adidja Palmer drove his car into the front of the bank and killed 6 people standing in the teller line. He gets out of the car and says “Sorry about that, I wasn’t driving or in control of the car. My persona was behind the wheel. Got to dash.” What would most sensible people think? Let Adidja Palmer walk out of the bank and wait for Vybz to come in and own up to this deed? Somehow, that “It wasn’t me” line doesn’t seem to be one that people would accept. Does it matter what the deed was? I think not.
If the person, who has two personalities, was my neighbour and associate would I feel differently? Would I say, “Man, Adidja wouldn’t do such a thing. Maybe he lost his mind.” That would help me understand. Or, “He’s pretending to be Vybz; look how he’s acting crazy.” That would also help me understand. I might even suggest that Adidja get counselling and work out the issues that were behind this split personality, that seemed to be so far apart, dare I say like Jekyll and Hyde. But, let’s leave that splitting aside for the moment.
Jamaica saw many things during the case. We saw saturated media coverage. That meant that for many it was a first look into how courts work and how the justice system functions. Judges, lawyers, juries, bailiffs, etc. The arguments and facts were sometime very complicated to follow. Many times we were given a sight of things that were not so clear and perhaps not so easy to believe. Telecom experts who told us that technology seemed more limited than we were often told it was. Cloned chips? Tampered text messages? Phones that couldn’t be traced? We heard about procedures that were shoddy at best and downright suspicious at worst. Evidence that was missing. Evidence that was open to tampering. We saw jurors run a foul of the judge and health problems that meant one had to be excused.
At the end of the case we saw what we had been awaiting: the jury were given instructions and went off to deliberate and came back with a verdict. The verdict was reached quite quickly. For some, that seemed strange. I did not think so. I did jury service when I was 18 and just a university student. Juries discuss cases as they proceed. Many jurors have their minds made up early. Many need lots of time. In the jury room, time is needed when opinions are divided and people need to be persuaded to change their views. If views are aligned, decisions can come quickly. The verdict was guilty for four of the five accused, including Palmer.
We also saw something that we honestly did not expect. We often hear about corruption in Jamaica, but by its nature it’s hard to see. But, we saw it live and direct in the courtroom. Within minutes of the verdict, we heard that one juror was to be charged with five counts of attempting to pervert the course of justice and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, by offering a bribe to the jury foreman, which had been reported. So, it was true: money comes into cases to try to steer verdicts.We still have to wait and see if the charges sticks and what else emerges.
Towards the end of the case, public emotions appeared to run high. People began amassing around the courthouse, showing support for Vybz Karkel and Adidja Palmer. Reports are that this was a ‘rent-a-crowd’ affair. Jamaica has 17 percent unemployment and 40 percent youth unemployment. Offer people money for light or no real work and they would be fools to turn it down. Think of it like ‘Christmas work’ but without a cutlass and rake. There were some violent incidents with crowds breaking police barricades and some bottle-throwing, I understand.
Now, the verdict has been given and the court of public opinion is in session. Some stridently claim that ‘the system’ was against the accused and there could not and was not a fair trial. I’m not sure if that same argument would have been made if the verdict had been innocent. It may seem strange to some that the same system smells sweet if you get what you want, but stinks when you don’t. I’ve not figure that out, yet.
Some intellectuals have put forward arguments that centre on the ‘creative genius’ or ‘icon’ status of Vybz Kartel-Adidja Palmer. I hear those arguments, but don’t understand what they are meant to prove in terms of what was the charge. Many great artistes are flawed, some severely so. We read almost daily of ‘stars’ who are in trouble with the law. Just this morning, I read about Kanye West and a battering charge. I don’t think I need to list all the instances. Some of these flawed characters appear more associated with some musical genres, say hip-hop and rap in the US. Some American artistes have openly claimed criminal backgrounds, eg Ice T (bank robbery), Snoop Dogg (marijuana and firearms). But, Jamaica has its notoriety, eg Buju Banton (cocaine trafficking and firearms). Such flaws are not unique to musicians. It may be part of what it takes to be great in ‘creative’ fields; it could just be part of the human condition.
Many people see the case as exceptional in that money and position (albeit gained through music) did not seem to sway the court decision. Many wonder aloud what would have happened if the case had concerned someone identifiably from Jamaica’s upper classes.
We saw the Director of Public Prosecutions happy that the prosecution case held up. She has begun an inquiry into procedural inefficiencies and revamping the protocols relating to the storage of items pertaining to cases before the courts.
Nothing is perfect in the world. I saw the justice system working and it seemed to perform well. Are there flaws? Sure. The system is compromised in many ways, however, importantly by negative feelings about the police and their impartiality and honesty.
People have vested interests. Did those dominate the proceedings? I don’t think so in any clear way.
This is not the end of my deliberations, but it’s enough food for thought for today.
My heart grieves when I see what some parents are allowing their children to do, and often with adult consent, encouragement and funding, in public. This week, I saw children enjoying the last days of summer holidays, doing something that made my blood boil. A boy and girl were seated on a shady bench. The boy reached out to the girl and offered her a bite of his lunch. She smiled shyly then opened her mouth and closed her eyes. He pushed the sandwich towards her lips. Her mouth opened slowly and in one savage bite, she took half of it. As her mouth worked I could hear her moaning in delight. Could a hamburger be so good?
Modern Jamaican children have been led down a devilish path of foreign influences, which threaten to stifle our little island’s great culinary culture. When I drove a family friend around Kingston early this afternoon, she told me a story about how her mother had worked as a cook at King’s House. She recalled how she’d been sent to Constant Spring Market to buy cow skin so that it could be boiled to make gelatin and then have colouring added to it to make home-made jelly. I laughed. My grandmother had also worked as a cook and I had never come across this gem.
But, have we been swept up by the waves of industrial progress and forgotten what we owe to the next generation? I loved it when two third grader children with Jamaican-Bahamian parents, born and raised in the USA, said boldly to their class mates in the US that they loved turkey neck most in Thanksgiving dinner, NOT mashed potatoes and gravy. Hail, parents and grandparents!
This morning, I met a class mate of my daughter’s here in Jamaica and asked what she’d had for breakfast. “Breadfruit and bacon,” she told me, proudly. So, it should be. This week, I’ve fed my daughter a steady diet of porridge before going to school–not oats, but hominy and cornmeal. I can embrace progress with this seeming backward gesture, because Jamaican food manufacturers now produce good versions of these staples that take less time to boil at home. It’s no big deal for me to make separate servings of different porridges. I’ve a cupboard loaded now with peanut, plantain, hominy and cornmeal porridges. Come, Mister Hurricane, if you bad!
My wife’s also gone a bit retro and bought an ice cream churn so that we can spend weekend afternoons making homemade ice cream. So far, mango and soursop have been dished up and were hoping that the guests who enjoyed it with us will soon pack up and leave. Two weeks’ stay over from a Sunday lunch is a little, forward, no?
I’m not someone filled with crazy nationalistic notions. I don’t think that all children need to spend 6 weeks in the country areas each year with grandparents or family members who farm or fish. But, talking about nights spent walking through the bush with a fire-stick or no light, feeling your way to your destination, makes me think that the modern generation is in danger of turning into a bunch of soft people. A friend just told me a story of two men walking through the bushes one night and they came to a river. One man, who knew the area, said to his visitor friend “Just jump!” He leapt and waited for his friend to follow. His friend summoned up courage and jumped. He landed on a slippery rock but kept his balance and stood on dry land. His friend then pulled out a lighter and set fire to some twigs, and they both looked down to see a raging torrent of water that was about 8 feet wide and about 30 feet below them. “Just jump? You mad!” said the visitor.
You don’t need zip lines for adventures. Go to the river and catch crayfish. Try taking a herd of cattle to the pasture. Milk cows. Fetch water. Collect logwood. I’m sure I can sign my child up for some ‘adventure’ activities at a camp, but I like simple.
This week, I decided to be firmer in my efforts to stop this slide down a slippery slope to ‘I’m a getting’ lost. I introduced my daughter to some essentials of life. Others may not agree on their relative importance but I’m not going to stay friends with anyone who thinks these things are not essential. Here’s a list of things I made sure she experienced this week:
*How to eat piping hot cornmeal or hominy porridge with chunks of hardo bread dropped in (I concede that Excelsior crackers work great, too). [As a friend reminded me, whole wheat bread has no place being near porridge.]
*Drinking a water coconut from the shell, without a straw.
*Eating soft coconut jelly with a sprinkling of brown sugar. (She’s even made her own variations, leaving some water in the coconut so that the sugar starts to dissolve a little into syrup. Children are inventive.)
*Ackee and salt fish on water crackers. (Water crackers make many a snack excellent.)
*Eating a slice of hardo bread with condensed milk. (She’s young, so I did not introduce her to the full sandwich.)
Her life changed forever when she tasted the bread and sweetened milk. Blame me!
Some of these things are part of the ‘inside secrets’ of Jamaican life. We eat patty and coco bread. Don’t listen to foolish talk about “too much starch”! We eat corn soup. All hot drinks are ‘tea’. Ah so we dweet!
Driving through Faith Pen last week, it was a given in my daughter’s mind, newbie though she is–to stop for roast yam and salt fish–and the fish was SALTY.
Though some of these tasty treats may owe their origins to poverty and hard times that some may want to forget, they’re very much a part of who we are. Bulla and pear, anyone?