Eating the bitter sweet fruit

“I just love that fruit man, but he’s so unreliable,” she said, smiling and recounting recent experiences of the man with a handcart of coconuts, pineapples, and other goodies who had arrived late for a previous school function. In the land of ‘soon come’, we often live with ‘never reach’. Is the sweetness and freshness, and the artistic carving of the pineapples worth the stress of never seeing or eating this goodness before all the guests have gone home? Like arranging a potluck supper and waiting for the person with the appetizers to arrive, it gets more than a little frustrating. When that person calls an hour after the supper was supposed to start to check if it’s still on, the gritted teeth moments are only seconds away from hair being pulled from scalp episode. When they arrive in time to share in desserts. WHY? “I’m not inviting her again!” But, her crispy won ton salad is sooooo good. Love them. Hate them.

20131011-080730.jpgThe fruit man, named ‘Tuppence’, wants to have it both ways. He has his regular spot where passers by look forward to his daily offerings to make their day. But, he also wants to ‘make a money’ selling to some well-to-do folks. He can’t be in two places at once. He can’t bear to choose between money here and money there. He promises to do both. He needs someone to man his regular spot and dare not lose it. He can’t leave till his sub comes along. But, this is Jamaica: his sub is late. So, he has to be late for the school event. He makes some of his regular money and makes less than he could have from the well-off people. Maybe, a lose-lose. He needs to say “No.” But, all he sees is his livelihood.

He’s typical of many people who have to rely on themselves to get things done. He’s also typical of people whose business depend on its manager being present. It could be the shop that can’t operate till the man arrives with the key to open up. It’s common.

What’s odd is the willingness of customers to put up with that. Not once, but often.

20131011-083253.jpgScarcity could explain why this happens. Exceptional value could also explain. Superb quality, too. Are these really present or are they just caught in a trap and acting like lemmings and doing something, habitually?

Is the problem the familiar one of not knowing how to say “No”? If so, it’s on both sides. The rationalisation by the users for going to the dry well so often is often pure delusion. “But, he’s so nice…” What does that matter if you cannot sample the niceness. “He’s so funny…” The joke is on you! “We’ll give him another try…”

Good intention on both sides can still end as misery. The fruit man wants to please and help himself to some income. The buyers want him to have the chance to get some extra money and maybe widen his appeal. Neither works out. He goes back to his standing place. The buyer regrets, but will try again to do him a favour.

Long may the sufferers reign.

Virtue out of necessity

If life gives you lemons, then make lemonade, goes the adage.

An article published recently in the Observer focused on growing demand for Jamaican sauces in prisons abroad, citing experiences from the UK and USA. To my mind, I could see several good things in this situation. We cannot control people’s lives, so cannot stop them falling afoul on the law, and if they end up in prison, we should be aware of their conditions.

What was interesting when I read the article was comments who saw negatives from what was going on. But, I still feel that smart business should be about seeing new opportunities and using them well; if they help improve our overall position, I’d see that as a plus. In this case, we gain foreign exchange and dent a little the balance of our food import bills. We could do more out of this particular opportunity, for example, by making the same cuisine more widely available across the prison population. The article did not give us enough context by citing what was happening to satisfy prisoners of Polish origin, for example. Was the prison system buying more kielbasa?

20130921-114935.jpgOf course, we can lament that our compatriots have messed up and maybe brought more shame on the nation, but we should, also, not hide our head in the sand and let opportunities go begging.

More neutrally, I’d love to see an article that showed we were making a marketing push to get Jamaican food more widely known in prisons or anywhere eaters and drinkers may be. We believe in our diet, so what’s to stop us trying to sell it to the world, wherever the hungry bellies and thirsty mouths may be? Are the prisoners no less ambassadors? If we read that they spent their time in jail helping others understand and appreciate Jamaican culture wouldn’t that be a plus? Some of that is clearly going on with music.

We can see an obverse side to this with tourism. Little research has been undertaken into tourists’ food preferences. We may have a glaring opportunity going begging. Market analysis may show that foreign visitors are happier consuming more of their customary foods, but we should introduce our cuisine to them. They buy some of our food before they leave (subject to annoying restrictions about importing food or drink). They may look to find it when they get home. More power to us. I’ve always known about foods that travel well in terms of lightness: weight is now a major issue for travellers. Our food producers do good things for the benefit of locals when they sell foods in easy-to-carry forms, but they then become great export items. Airport shops have been filled with sauces and jams and patties and gizzadas. But, could they not start giving shelf space to other packaged foods? Sure, they are in supermarkets. But, do visitors with no Jamaican connections venture there? My daughter visited a few weeks ago and was thrilled with being able to slip into her luggage (lighter) packages of porridge and Milo, and gave up on (bulkier) bottles of sauce. Plastics may get a bad rap, but they are lighter than glass and tend not to break.

Food is big business. We focus on our import bill, and we know we have to develop non-traditional exports. But are we thinking about the many little things which may have to feature more in our thinking if we are to maximize our potential in driving more strongly our food exports?

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20130921-122321.jpgOur cuisine is very much part of our ‘brand Jamaica’.

Done to a tee

Jamaica is full of ingenious people, and many of them are humble in every sense, may have little formal education, may not have anything that would class as much wealth, but they have a rich education in the art of survival at the University of Life.

I was out playing golf this morning, with a lady neighbour and her caddy. We’d spoken a few days ago about the dearth of sponsorship that the sport attracts, in large part because it’s seen as elitist and for people with ample means. I told her that the golf community perhaps needed to put that image back at the detractors by flagging at least the humble origins of the latest winner of the Jamaica’s Seafreight National Amateur Golf Championships: Paul Thompson hails from Cassava Piece, dubbed one of Jamaica’s crudest ‘garrisons’, but ironically, adjacent to Constant Spring Golf Course. That same day, and since, we’ve seen some of the ‘elite’ golfers on the course: one was about 4, using a borrowed glove and club that was his height, with his father teaching him, neither of them had anything elite about them except the possibility of one day beating the world’s best. Four caddies teed off ahead of us the other morning: one was wearing water boots; another had a shirt that had so many big holes it was a surprise he knew where to put his neck. None of them hit a tee shot that was less than 280 yards. A brute dem! I drooled as one took a driver shot through a narrow passage and found the green, 300 yards away. Elite? Tek weh yuself!

As happens too often, some little thing (literally, sometimes) throws you off your game. Today, my partner and I needed to hit a tee shot that required a short (not regular or long) tee; players often just pick up a broken tee for this purpose. As luck would have it, none could be found on the ground. I happened to have one in my pocket and passed it to my playing partner. She and the caddy then lamented the recent death of a man who used to scour the course for broken tees, sharpen them, teesand then sell them to players for the very purpose we sought. I don’t know his prices but it’s a viable business: during the course of the next few holes played we needed four more such tees. I suggested to the caddy that he should think about resurrecting the dead man’s business, it could do more than add chump change to his caddy fees.

That’s the latest in the litany of ideas that make so much sense and need little by way of material. Jamaica is famous for its push carts, which see their heydays in a national derby each August and are credited with inspiring the creation of a national bobsled team, made famous in the film ‘Cool Runnings’. cart1Anyone taking a road trip will see many vendors along the roadside. Jamaica recycles, but not the way they do in the USA or UK, perhaps. Used white rum bottles seem to be the choice for refilling with home-made honey: maybe tourists have been fooled into thinking that some other substance is in those bottles. With a little extra dressing up, those people who like to see everything with a label and want to go goggle-eyed at the ‘creativity of artisans’ would be soon pulling out more dollar bills for some of that stuff. The Rasta I met the other day comes back to mind, who was roasting his peanuts in a drum made from a used cooking gas cylinder. The man who’s making a concoction of noni and prickly pear, and claims that it will help cure my father-in-law’s knee joint problems, deserves his mention, too. The ‘system’ may have no means to help these people do more than they do now, but they shouldn’t be ignored when we look for ideas and marvel and the latest high-tech solution that someone proposes, forgetting that basic and low-tech are still very much in need.

True enough, that same ingenuity is not always used in ways that seem so socially responsible: raiding the electricity grid with drop cords, for example; tapping off a neighbours water supply, for another example; using used and worn tyres to make footwear, etc. But, we don’t want to stifle it. Nurture it. Tap it. Use it.