As I See It: Facebook Live Chats taking shape

I’ve become quite the video blog maven. Hurricane Matthew gave opportunities to do more frequent chats and updating on a regular basis proved useful and comforting for family and friends near and far. But, daily ‘shows’ isn’t my plan, for the moment, so I’m getting back to my schedule of three times a week. My latest today is here:

But, my social media branding guru friend tells me to tighten up my act. 😊👍🏾 

So, now I have a thematic name for the Facebook page, ‘As I See It’, and I’ll tweak that as time goes. So, check the latest video and previous ones. 

Machew! A man or a mouse? Grateful that you passed quietly…Jamaican women have their say about that :)

Today, we have the good grace to be looking at the back of Matthew, a hurricane that kept us waiting, forced us to clean up or act, exposed the stubbornness of some, and tested the organizational and communications skills of our government and its support services in the area of disaster preparedness. I think they can take high marks for doing many things with clarity and decisiveness, and also a certain willingness to face up the some clear weaknesses in how our local and national lives are lived. I noted that Jamaica needs many conversations about social responsibility & how just doing ‘what’s good for me’ is not community spirited. Our national motto is ‘Out of many, one people’, but you would be naive to believe that ours is a unified country. I’m not going to talk about political tribalism, but just the fact that during the midst of a time when the nation was supposed to be focused on our collective survival against an act of nature, we had robberies and murders still going on. That disconnection is not trivial. 

I am grateful that all I may need to do today is put my home back in order, not clearing away damage and helping others do same.

We were barely tested by the hurricane, but the heavy shower we had on Saturday showed many public service weaknesses that MUST be addressed quickly AND consistently.

Let me leave the serious stuff there.

Yesterday, however, we saw what diversion means in the age of social media. We know that people share jokes online, and take friendly jabs at each other. But, it’s rare to have a game going on, online. Yesterday, one of our media celebrities tried that, successfully, I think. It was a kind of ABC game.

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Many people got in it, and it kept them amused for a good while.

The other thing I noticed, again, is how women were taking a swipe at this hapless ‘guy’. I think the comments all speak for themselves. Jamaican women, including the Leader of the Opposition, had varying views about whether (Hurricane) Matthew could hold their interest, or hold up in any way at all.

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Jamaica blog day: Environment vs Development. Baha-mar meet Jamaica’s logistics hub

I left Jamaica’s shores on May 22, to arrive on those of another CARICOM country, an archipelago, The Bahamas. Back home, much concern exists over what development of a logistics and transhipment hub may mean for the natural environment, especially the Goat Islands. The concerns involve what may happen, and who may do it: a Chinese investor has approval for the project. In The Bahamas, we get to see some effects of another Chinese-financed and built development on the local environment with the Baha-mar resort project.

China has a poor reputation regarding care for the environment. It is a major consumer of natural resources. It is a major polluter of the environment. It is on a development path that sees it doing more of both things. In Jamaica, the hub project may involve the introduction of coal-powered energy production. The world’s major multilateral financing agency, the World Bank, is pulling away from such projects; so too is the main multilateral financing agency in the CARICOM region, the Inter-American Development Bank.

So, why would Jamaica run headlong towards coal? A good question, but one which its government has not answered other than to indicate that it would provide substantially cheaper energy than is available on that island. That can’t be the whole answer, which would require looking at what costs such energy production could and may inflict on the island. The Jamaican population would love to have a fuller answer.

I have made no deep analysis of the Baha-mar project, but have watched how it has changed the landscape of New Providence. What have I seen?

New and extensive highways. From the airport, in the west, through Baha-mar, and moving east, New Providence has new four-lane roads. More concrete. More asphalt. Fewer trees. Fewer shrubs. More metallic light poles. More solar-powered lights.

At and near the project, I have seen new buildings: hotel complex; police station; new offices and retail stores. I have also seen a new boardwalk, used by a few tourists and many Chinese workers. I have seen a lake and its mangroves exposed: it had been hidden by bush but now can be reached and used. It contains many fish and birds. I cannot say if its exposure has led to its being abused. When I last looked closely, it was clean. People enjoy the vista it offers, and its tranquillity.

Existing hotels near the project are being refurbished.

To get all of this, The Bahamas has used much more electricity from its oil-powered energy generation plant at Lyford Cay, in the west. Someone can check what that has added to their import bill. Did they earn more foreign exchange to pay for that? Is the country holding more debt as a result?

Remember, I’m only giving visual impressions and focusing on obvious things. Why? That’s all most people will perceive. The amount of money and resources used will be a blur to most people. They will notice more or less. They like or loathe what they see. Residents will know how things have changed and feel happy or aggrieved about the changes, some of which affected them directly. For instance, construction of the highways meant huge upheavals of traffic patterns, with congestion and delays. It also meant dirt and noise and grime. It meant some local residents got jobs. But, many jobs were for Chinese workers.

The local economy got a boost but took a hit while the project was underway. I won’t try to gauge how that balanced; other things happened to affect that.

All of this goes to what Jamaica may soon experience. For us, it will be different in an important way. New Providence is small, though it holds most of the national population. Baha-mar looms large. You can see the hotel complex from almost anywhere on the island. The highways have altered significantly travel on the island, with more speed. I imagine everyone in Nassau has felt the project. Have the people on Grand Bahama, another, larger island in the archipelago? Not that they would notice.

Jamaica’s hub project will loom large over Kingston and its immediate environs, but may be invisible to most of Jamaica.

That may mean how it’s perceived becomes something for those near the capital. Its costs and benefits will seem more limited.

That may be something that the government has exploited. Those who may feel the hub development can be isolated, even made to seem small and insignificant. While some opposition to the project may exist, it too can seem limited. By extension, opponents can be more easily picked off.

Thus, Jamaica’s hub development poses an interesting problem of how to mobilise national concerns over what may seem to be a local matter. The national benefits and costs hardly factor in if you’re in Portland or Westmoreland, to take two extreme points far to the north of Kingston. But, how much of the hub project’s impact will really be only local?

I don’t know the answer, but pose this as a challenge to those wanting to raise the level of debate on the topic. Jamaicans need to see and hear convincing arguments about what the hub will mean for parishes outside Kingston, St. Andrew, St. Catherine, and Clarendon.

Trees company

Hi-ho, Hi-ho…

Several weeks ago, I wrote about the prospect of replanting trees in the hills of St. Andrew; today was planting day at Mount Prospect. A group of some 50 people, IADB staff, family, friends and associated sponsors, travelled by bus to the hillside community, along with staff from the Forestry Department. The start was not too early, and in somewhat typical style for Jamaica, the group set off ‘fashionably late’. Fortunately, with the site preparation done already, the late start was no major issue. On arrival, we had a little drama when one of the Coaster buses came to a dead-end and then was unable to back out as its wheels spun in the mud. Scenes from a thriller film followed, as people put planks under wheels to stop them from slipping and sliding, but to no avail. A truck had to come and help haul out the bus. Drama over, Forestry Department staff gathered everyone together to show us the site and give some preliminary instructions about how to plant. The plan had been to fill holes with about 950 trees; holes had been dug and plants set aside them, together with some dying grasses that would provide mulch covering. Some delay in preparations meant that only about 700 trees could be planted by the IADB group, and contractors would finish off the work later in the day.

Breakfast sandwiches and some juice were welcome before the digging started.

Forestry Department staff: loving her work. Some really energetic young people.

People were grouped in teams and went off in search of the placements marked by sticks with different coloured ribbons for each group.

Tree seedling, ready for its new home.

Someone thought that making it competitive would somehow make for more interest, I guess: not sure if that was pandering to type-A personalities, or whatever. Anyway, I got on digging with my hands and trying to fill my tree seedlings into their holes and moving down the hillside.

A retired economist using both hands to settle his plant on the hillside

It was tricky work. The placement of dried grasses meant that traction was less and the risk of sliding greater. I ski, so it was not too hard for me to figure out what to do as I slid down the hillside a few times–dig in my feet. But, at least once, that was not enough and I had to grab onto a dead tree root; once, I grabbed but it was a piece of rusted barbed wire that my hand felt for.

Yikes! We’d each been given a stick of young bamboo to help dig but also to help manage on the hill.

Essential services

The sun was up, but under the tree canopy it was not beating on us too hard. My wife and young daughter were on another team and I guess worked feverishly. I built up a good sweat and after about 90 minutes had finished all the trees in the section I had been managing.

I later found out that, despite what one of the Forestry Department staff had said about no more to plant, there was a stretch of about 100 trees that I could have helped with. Well, the sweat of others was as good as mine. All done.

Island Grill doing its part for environmentalism

We then washed up at the portable washroom and porta-potty breaks were taken. Oranges had been peeled and ice and water were ready to help slake our thirst. We then waited for lunch.

‘Service’ team working, working, working

My wife’s driver had been sent off to a designated Island Grill store near Stony Hill to get our pre-ordered lunch: jerk and barbecued chicken, rice and peas, callaloo rice, festival, steamed vegetables and salad. Nuff! Everyone ate well, including Forestry Department staff, who had appetites like rugby players–they deserved to savour every mouthful.

Some dogs came by to pay their respects, and wait to see what scraps were thrown their way.

Reuse, recycle, remove

My daughter got into a dominoes game. Where did she learn to play? People ate heartily, and then made sure to sort their garbage into recyclable sets–plastics, styrofoam boxes, paper, glass, trash, etc. We all thought about protecting the environment. My wife told her troops that no more styrofoam boxes for such events.

Official signage

I don’t know if she heard my idea that we go back to old-style Jamaica with ‘shut pans’. Lunch done, there was a quiz to determine which team had won. The idea had been to count how many trees each had planted but that got messed up. The quiz was a bit chaotic, and in the end the winners were in dispute as they did not convince a very critical audience that they had really described the planting process well.

This will be taken to some international court of arbitration, or a rum bar. Tired and weary, we set off home. I need a nap, but am writing this first 🙂 Enjoy the pictures.

Prospecting the mountainside

Deforestation is a problem in Jamaica, as people engage in logging and clearing land in order to cultivate crops. To counter that, some organizations are working in conjunction with the Forestry Department to replant trees. I went to some mountainside in rural St. Andrew this morning. Mount Prospect.

I wrote recently that I am an environmentalist, and helping to preserve or improve the natural world around me is something I try to do as often as possible. But, I wont make a position statement on that now, but simply share some of the images from the site visit. I look forward to sharing pictures later of the planting.

View from Mount Prospect, St. Andrew
Country man on his way to the fields
Hillside, recently logged, and ready to be replanted. Cultivation of coffee and bananas underway.
Mountainside views, with trees well covering the hillsides
Prospective planters prospecting Mount Prospect
Pine cones, whose seeds are nature’s way of self-preservation
Zinc-sided structure, purpose unknown

Talking trash

Some friends and I were out this morning when we came across a familiar site in Jamaica: the often-thrown-away plastic bottle. A pile of such specimens was lying in the grass, quietly basking in the sun. I went to look at them; they were quite young as they had fresh wrappers that had not been much affected by the heavy rain showers yesterday. I wondered if more of the specimens were nearby: I found a little group of them hiding in bushes close the pile. I pulled them out and put them with the others in the pile. My lady friend covered her eyes, and held her head. “These people!” she cried. Why can’t they keep their PETs at home?

I did not know the answer.

The website for Jamaica’s National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) contains the disarmingly clear statement about waste management:

The management of all wastes poses serious environmental problems in Jamaica. Solid waste collection and disposal operations present many serious environmental, public health, social and liability problems and risks.

The country has problems knowing what to do with garbage and actually doing sensible things with garbage.garbage jamaica In the same area where I saw the PETs, I know many trash collection bins exists. However, those that I found filled to overflowing on Monday morning last week, after a weekend of recreation, were still full on Thursday of the same week. Either someone responsible for clearing the bins does not see the problem. Or they see the problem and do not care to deal with it. Or they see the problem and have no means to deal with it. Or they don’t see the problem, because they have no regular process of checking.

Anyone, with good intentions, therefore, taking their PETs for a walk, may find they have nowhere to rest them when they are tired and used. So, they just toss them away. Of course, they could take them home and dispose of them there. But, that’s not how people here operate.

Whether it’s PETs or styrofoam food boxes, the results are similar.

NEPA notes that bad collection and disposal of garbage pose pollution hazards on air, in land and or sea. It notes that public ignorance of proper waste disposal.

It’s easy to see what’s wrong. Just go by a gully and take a look in. You will see the debris that flows around the city of Kingston. Much is material such as plastics (bottles, bags), foam (food boxes), appliances (fridges, other metal objects), foliage (cut and broken branches and leaves). When it rains, these float down the inclines and much ends up in Kingston Harbour. Lovely!

Like much in Jamaica that needs fixing, it’s hard to not see the problem. But, fixing it seems to have defied those in charge.

Garbage builds up in my home, much like anyone else’s and I am struck by how little I can avoid putting into a waste disposal bag. I admit to having been spoilt by living in the USA, and their new fangled ideas about recycling. Here’s what could go into the garbage each week.

  • Newspapers–nothing collected regularly for municipal or private recycling [But, a scheme to help a non-profit is getting these to recycle.]
  • Glass bottles–nothing collected regularly for municipal or private recycling [Beer bottles can be returned to regain their deposits. Other glass bottles? Nothing collected.]
  • Plastic bottles–a collection point is close to home
  • Food waste–nothing collected regularly for municipal or private recycling [Best efforts to save somethings for ‘doggie bags’]
  • Garden waste–nothing collected regularly for municipal or private recycling [Neighbour has built compost heap, but very selective about what goes into it, given concerns about vermin and other pests.]

So, most things go to the dumps, and we are people who try to minimize garbage.

I’ve stopped banging my head. Time to gear up on personal and community action.