#COVID19Chronicles-210: November 6, 2020-Chocolate dreams

While the world waits on the results of the US presidential elections, it’s a good time for some sweet reflections.

My name is Dennis and I’m a chocoholic. For that reason, I need to be really careful around chocolate products. I can find them irresistible.

However, I do not like chocolate in baked goods. There. My wife, please note 😂❤️🤔

Jamaican friends fled the UK lockdown and came back to Jamaica on Wednesday evening, with a little plastic bag for me that contained a selection of English goodies. I did not know what, precisely. When I opened it, nothing but joy flawed. I’d had one request (for me and a friend)—Nestle’s ‘Rolo’; I got two packets of 4 rolls each. (One packet is for a friend who asked if I could arrange a ‘care package’ for her. ❤️ 🏌🏼)

Rolos are ‘roll-styled chocolates, is a brand of truncated cone-shaped or conical frustum-shaped chocolates with a caramel middle. First manufactured in the United Kingdom by Mackintosh’s in 1937’ according to the official website. 👍🏾🇬🇧

It got me thinking about a whole life with English chocolate, from my childhood, through adulthood, from living in Britain to living abroad and visiting the UK periodically and re-engaging my taste buds and restocking for some later enjoyment and a suitcase filled with favourites.

Part of the joy comes from what memories they also evoke, sometimes of commercials and reflections on life between 1961-90. British ads are great and many stick in the mind, such as that for Maltesers:

I love Cadbury’s chocolates, and though I have enjoyed other brands, they are the best. Swiss and Belgian are great but…

As a small boy in England, one place I could go alone or with friends was to the ‘sweet shop’, which back in the 1960s was a place filled with jars of boiled sweets as well as chocolates. I could write another post about all the wonderful things in jars. Heaven to the eyes and taste buds; sweets and sours; chewy and brittle; brightly coloured. Sinful! 🙂

Every now and then I come across a shop in England trying to recreate the old-style sweet shop or its market cousin of sweets sold on a cart.

We children could sit and share chocolates and other sweets and the fun was that, even with what were the few pennies in our pockets or hands (in the days of pounds, shillings and pence), we could expand our choices by buying different things and sharing.

Much has changed in how the products are marketed, wrapped and even some shifts in recipes, but the image below shows how most of the bars looked in the 1960s. My mind is locked on those visualizations.

For a child, what could be better than seeing your peers in a commercial and the Milky Bar kid was the epitome of that in the 1960s and 1970s—even a black child could relate to a white bespectacled boy with blond hair 🙂 :

When I used to travel on missions, I’d pick up chocolate en route in duty free, often in London, usually a few different bars of Cadbury’s chocolate. It was my emergency ‘medication’ if things got tough.

When I travel nowadays for pleasure, I bring back a selection and then battles rage as my teenage daughter starts to wolf them.

Back in the day, I had some go-to favourites besides chocolate bars. I loved Aero, flavoured and with air bubbles. I adored Picnic, filled with peanuts and caramel. A Kit-Kat was always fun because a finger was often enough.

Then, special times meant boxes and tins of chocolates, eg Roses at Christmas.

If good things from the past were so easily touched by access to joyful things imagine how happy we could be. Time machine designers? Get your fingers out!

As anxieties rise during the presidential counts, I’d not be surprised to read that consumption and sales of chocolate have risen.

Summer time! Ghana 2 Germany 2 is more than a draw

I have my heart on Ghana getting to the World Cup final and winning it all: I changed my Twitter handle to ‘Ghanacanwinit’ at the start of the matches. The ghost of the quarter-final defeat by Uruguay in 2010 has to be exorcised; it was by the performance against Germany last night. The match finished tied, 2-2, but in the world of what if that is football commentary, Ghana will look back on chances wasted by bad decisions when they had the German defence outnumbered in open play with the score at 2-1 and 2-2. But, that is part of football’s beauty. Their goals were beautiful strikes that came from a brand of fast and fluid interchange I have seen often in recent years. Technique is not missing. Final application is often. Mostly, not this time. Germany hit first and then came back well. Take the draw: it’s a fact.

Immediately after the match, I contacted a friend in Accra to let me have something on how Ghana reacted. Within minutes, he sent me: “We go put pepper in your eyes … We gonna make you cry. that’s how bad we’ll beat you.” He told me he was going outside to see if he could get me some pictures of revelry; it was very late at night, so he came back with nothing but another quote: “Oh I can’t say anything bad about the boys!!! Andre Dede Ayew both breasts are yours!!!” – Honorable Hajia Amma Frimpong.

What the match meant to people of African descent was clear, especially, those who have Jamaican connections, whose Ghanaian connections are still clear–Maroons history, Accompong. Some comments were very strident–Africa was coming back at Europe, alluding to slave ancestors and more. My friend proudly and loudly hailed his Black Stars. My best man is Ghanaian and I have to hail him and his wife today, to celebrate. I read reports that the Brasileiros were cheering for Ghana. It’s not the first time Ghana has lit up the World Cup, but this time heads turned because of the opposition; Germany has top-notch footballing pedigree. Behind Brazil, they strike fear in most teams’ hearts. Ghana did not get the memo, of it they did, it made no sense. Run, dribble, pass, shoot, knock heads, knock feet, jump up, run harder, faster… Neuer in the German goal was the man under pressure. He could not save either goal. Ghana could have scored more. Fans were happy. Social media was on fire.

We all love the little inside stories. The Boateng brothers, one playing on each side.

image

A cynic was quick to point out that the game got lively once brotherly love was done and both had been substituted.

Miroslav Klose came on and scored with his first touch of the ball, to equalise. He matched Ronaldo with 15 goals as all-time top scorer in World Cup finals; Ronaldo also scored his 15th against Ghana.

All this on the longest day of the year. Historical facts are set.

But, the story was about Ghana sustaining their beautiful game, honed on decades of youth development. The under 20 team has been in the World Cup for that level since its inception in 1970. Importantly, they won the cup in 2009. The senior team did not make the final rounds until 2006. Flattering to deceive no more.

The team has stars and some grace the game at the highest club levels in Europe, with Italy now a happy hunting ground, helped by the performances over the past decade. Many great players still play in the national league. But, cream rises to the top. (Ironically, one of Italy’s new starts, Balotelli, has Ghanaian parents.) The youth have been blended well, and now the discipline needed to succeed at the highest levels is showing up clearly.

Well, Jamaicans will appreciate another aspect of the Ghana story: music and dance. The teams that are surprising this time round are coming with choreography. Ghana has the music going in the stands, and now they showed the stseps on the field, after their goal. It is all wet Africa. Watch.

Ghana is also about hairstyles, and that starts at the top with the captain, Asamoah Gyan, proudly sporting his number on his head.

Ghana is about African diaspora. Jamaicans are very much part of that. Maybe our football federation will think of linking with the Ghanaians and see how they can help us with our football program. ‘Back to Africa’ movements or Marcus Garvey might not have had that as a prospect, but sometimes we miss the obvious.

The game is played in the head and on it. Ask Gyan
The game is played in the head and on it. Ask Gyan

But, the match is and was about goals, plain and simple. Enjoy them all again here.

 

Cooking up stories

A few days ago, I wrote that we could get a lot of Jamaican history recorded if everyone who has the ability to record the actions and words of someone from an older generation did so. Jamaica is full of story tellers. I heard about a school in the Blue Mountains portion of the parish of Portland that was creating its own oral history bank by having older citizens come to the school and tell stories, which were then recorded on an electronic tablet. But, stories are all around us, if we just listen.

Last night, we were invited to share curried chicken and rotis with a group of teachers and their friends and family. It was a must-accept invitation. My little fish-daughter was swimming in the Karl Dalhouse swim meet at the National Aquatic Centre, which began at 5pm. The dinner seemed like the ideal end to her evening and excellent preparation for a weekend full of races. After her race last night, she and her mother headed home while I continued time keeping for a while.

As luck would have it, though we left 30 minutes apart, we arrived at the gate of the residence at the same time. I went behind my wife’s car and said to the guard that I was going to the same place as she was. Then I saw my wife turn her car around and start to head out of the complex. She told me that the guard said that we needed to find the residence on another side of the complex. Off she went. I was a boy scout, so I got out my phone and called our host–who had told me that she lived just down the street from us. Yes, I was in the right place and in seconds I could see her waving as we talked on the phone. I called my wife and told her to high-tail it back.

Our host had her mother visiting from the countryside, which was a pleasant surprise. We went through the usual introductions and settled into relaxing. Little by little the stories started to flow.

My wife had found out that a relative of our host’s husband was also a relative of hers in The Bahamas. Small coincidence? The relative was due to join us for dinner.

I started sharing stories about how we had found related people as members of the swimming club that my daughter had joined in Kingston. We felt like family with that team and were even happier to be part of it. More coincidences?

One of the guests asked me about my writing, and I gave him a little insight into what it tries to be and why I write. Then, our host told us that her mother was a mystery writer who got paid for what she does. Her mother, who was born in England, had married a Jamaican, and lived on the island for over 40 years, explained that she could not tell us about her writing, done under a pseudonym. her daughter had never read any of these mysterious works. How intriguing.

The appetizer arrived and we tucked into a tasty salad made with cabbage (grown at the school) and salt fish, which went well with crackers. Our host’s mother had made it. We were in danger of spoiling our appetites as we ladled heap of the salad onto biscuits. We talked about some of the exotic dishes that were popular in Jamaica. One of my favourites, curried tripe and broad beans, had its lovers and its haters. We talked about eating braised liver and bananas. We reminisced about living in England and going to the butcher to get the cuts of meat we wanted, not pre-packaged as was common in the USA. I love of braised kidneys with port and talked about times when I used to live in Wales and would get a present of a pack of meat of sausages from the local butcher whenever the local football team, for which I played, won at the weekend.

The roti cooker realised the danger, so moved quickly to intervene and place his signature dishes in front of us. Out came the dish of curry and alongside a plate full of ‘buss-up-shut’. No more invitations needed. We all tried to be polite as we hastily grabbed at our makings of our dinners. This food is best eaten with the hands, and preferably in clothes that don’t show curry stains.

Buss-up-shut
Buss-up-shut

Within minutes, conversation had slowed as eating took over.

As the evening went on, we were joined by some more guests and the evening rolled on. This is a regular gathering and we were glad to be part of it.

We talked about devoted parents who spent their weekends watching and supporting their children 🙂 We talked about living in England. We talked about enjoying travelling around Jamaica’s countryside and enjoying what it offered. I described my recent trip to Mandeville and the pleasure of coming back to Kingston with a car laden down with produce: a trunk full of bananas and yam and a car caked in mud were signs of a good trip.

We were asked, after a good rest, if we were ready for dessert. Silly question. Lychee cake was being offered. My wife asked from where the fruit had come, and several of us explained that Jamaica produces plenty of the fruit, including in my father’s yard. We were well-behaved as plates with hefty slices of cake were passed around. Again, conversation slowed down.

My daughter left with her mother soon after 9pm so that she could get a good night sleep. Reluctant, of course, to leave the company of some adults who were enjoying her company.

The rest of us settled comfortably into a round of stories. We talked about nicknames–a staple of Jamaican life. How do you get a name ‘Clock’? Have one arm shorter than the other.

The funniest stories were about attending the ‘wrong’ Nine Nights. It’s a great piece of Jamaica’s culture that deaths are celebrated and the party atmosphere of a ‘set up’ is something that many Jamaicans enjoy. From what we heard, these have now become more festive, with ‘ban’s’ being part of the events, and even some ‘winding up’.

Nine Nights celebration
Nine Nights celebration

We heard that our host and friends had gone to pay respects to the family of a grandmother, only for find that in the a settlement of some 1500 people, there happened to be two such celebrations going on at the same time. Just their luck to walk into the wrong one. Still, walking with bottles of rum and ready for manish water and curried goat, they boldly waltzed into the mingle. Why be surprised that no one was coming up to you and talking? Well, it’s because you’re at the wrong place! Eventually, they found their way to the right place and got into the revelry they had been awaiting. Singing, dancing, drinking, praying. I hoped that the group of Nine Night chasers would give a sample of their singing routine, which I heard ranged from Gospel, through Soca. We rolled around as we imagined this wandering band of duppy watchers.

I was fading, after a long day of activity and I needed to get my sleep, too, with a day on a swim deck awaiting me. We hugged and kissed and wished each other a good weekend, as I headed home.

Another friend, with whom I’d played golf earlier in the day, had mentioned to me that every Friday he gets a lot of Parrot fish and has a good ‘fish feed’ at his house; Saturday is soup day. Jamaicans (and other Caribbeans) love to get together and just lime (as the Trinis call it)–just hang out with each other. Food and drink, as the world over, make the gathering so much better. 

My story-telling idea has its place, but clearly, we thrive on being able to share our lives with others, not only by being together physically, but also from airing our experiences. We get to know a little more about each other that way. Doors open. Doors close. Chapters start. Chapters end. We never know how we will intercept each other’s lives, but a good beginning comes from telling a little tale.

 

 

Going? Gone? Still here.

Last week, a longtime family friend wrote an article in the Gleaner, which provoked many thoughts; it was entitled “The Ja I Knew Is Disappearing“. In essence, it focused on solving national problems, the need to take responsibility for our national health and welfare, and to be truly competitive, internationally. I can stand up for those sentiments. But…

The Jamaica I knew is also disappearing, and in many cases, has disappeared. But, I am going to see if (some of) what remains is hopeful or hopeless.

I regret that digital cameras have not been around for all time. When I try to remember, I know my childhood memories of Jamaica are a blend of reality and imagination. I wish I had more pictures to convince me and others which was dominant. I also wish that our ears and brains were wired to reproduce the sounds that we’ve made or encountered. When I recite the alphabet that I learned as a small boy, it would be so nice for my little daughter to hear the ‘recording’ of my recitations: “A is for apple. B is for bat…” Wouldn’t it be great for her to hear my grandmother yell for me, “Time to come in. Night come.” She’d better understand that the message is decades old 🙂

This is not nostalgia, what Websters describes as ‘excessively sentimental yearning for return to, or of, some past period or irrecoverable condition’. I don’t expect the world I knew as a boy, over 50 years ago, to still be there, unchanged. But, I wish more things were not mere memories or that the memories were tangible and had depth and texture. Where are those holograms that pop up in sci-fi films? I could pull up the Palace Theatre palaceawhen it was filled with people enjoying a show, not as it is now, all overgrown with bushes. What about the smells that I remember, such as roasted peanuts? That I can still enjoy, because street vendors still sell them in their tightly wrapped cones, from carts, whistling as steam escapes: “Peeeenuttt!” Many Lannaman sweets (candies) are still there, pressed now by more foreign brands: suck those mint balls and paradise plums. Mmmmm.

I am going through a fascinating period, as my memories get triggered while I drive around Jamaica. Before I left Jamaica, life here was enjoyable, but I am not pretending that it was idyllic, like paradise. Bad things happened. People I knew and loved were unhappy or in pain. My mother’s family in St. Elizabeth had lived through dislocation from the land they owned and farmed well to lands that seemed less well suited to cultivation. Money was less the issue in the transaction, but moving was a trauma. A deep unhappiness led to my parents’ decision to migrate to England in 1961.

Jamaica, pre-independence, was a colonial country in a social and political spin. It was coming out of the deeply contentious discussions about a West Indies Federation, an idea the nation jettisoned in a referendum. It was only about a quarter century away from having its first political parties. Universal adult suffrage had existed for about 15 years. People had started to leave the island in larger numbers to head mainly to England. The country was on the cusp of major change. I know that now, but cannot say that I felt that as a child. But, my ears heard much about Bustamante and Manley.

We lived downtown, not far from the waterfront. I remember Rockfort Baths and cherished going back there, recently, with my daughter who seems to have a thrill in her every time its mentioned. I remember downtown Kingston for many things. Big buses, run by the Jamaican Omnibus Servicechichibus–‘chi-chi’ buses, we called them, because of the hissing sound the air from the hydraulic doors made. I remember them as white/silver. I remember being fascinated by the air vents. They are gone. Jitneys took their place and offered more flexibility to the growing city and its need for transport. The fleet of modern city buses–yellow, sleek and new–hold no magic for me. A big bus with no chi-chi. That’s no bus.

People in Jamaica complain constantly nowadays about taxi drivers, for their wanton disregard for everyone else on the roads. I can’t remember ever getting into a cab before I left Jamaica, but I have vivid memories of the cabs plying their trade on the downtown streets. I remember two main companies–Checker and Yellow, and their cars carried their names in their colour and designcheckercab. I had no idea what taximen were like; my dad rode a BSA motorbike, and all three of us would take trips, me in between my parents. Nowadays, cabs are bland, and mostly white estate cars. Boring! Bring back the old cabs, or at least tThier designs?

If the Jamaica I knew is going or gone, is there only regreit? Not at all. Jamaica has new things, few of which I saw or experienced directly from their outset. I did not have them around me while I lived in England. But, I felt pride or shame deeply when I learned about them or sampled them when I visited. Shame for the bad, which made my skin crawl. My Jamaica? Pride for the good, that would make me jump like leggo beast. My Jamaica!

The bad: near-rabid political tribalism; ugly, violent crimes, spreading seemingly like wildfire; shanty towns sprouting like topsy and creating new urban life of a kind that was harder than many could comprehend; a nation full, it would seem, with racing driver wannabees, rishing headling into crashes and exacting an awful toll of deaths; economic circumstances that seemed much worse than almost anyone could understand in a country so blessed by nature, so rich in talent, so ready to create. And more…

The good: music was in our veins and the world soon understood that; sporting talents were always present and now world stages would see that often and wonder how a country so small and seemingly unable to get its economy and society right could produce such excellence to unseat the bigger and richer nations; schools that could educate very well and very good students who could hold their own against many others; natural beauty and climate that many envy. And more…

I discussed on Friday with my wife and one of her colleagues something perplexing about Jamaica. We have found a way to develop people who can excel on a world stage, yet we see much that is wrong around them on this island.

Most recently, our athletes have shown again in Moscow what we are in danger of taking for granted. Our popular music has been taken by the world, even bettered by foreigners (Japanese reggae dancers beat off Jamaicans, recently). Jamaicans and those of Jamaican heritage are not strangers to greatness: Garvey, Marley, Colin Powell, Ewing, Blackwell, Nettleford, Wint, Ottey, Belafonte… Our cultural distinctiveness is well known and capable of being used for market major international brnads–see VW and their recent ads. We can talk about ‘brand Jamaica’ as a hugely pisitive thing: ‘cool runnings’, ‘Irie!’, ‘no problem’, ‘Bolt’, ‘to the world’.

When it comes to hard work and commitment, those who have shone on the world stage are less exceptions than indications of what many Jamaicans espouse. Whether it’s in the hauling of wood and water before going to school, or digging yam, or standing on roadsides trying to sell fruit and vegetables, or studying hard to make through school exams, Jamaicans know about hard work and its benefits. Pef6rsonally, I know of few people who demonstrate better what that means than sportsmen and women, at all levels: it’s a long haul, whatever the discipline, with many bumps in the road, and often the need to build a very strong inner fortitude.

But the individual star is always the product of many hands helping to shape. Our track successes have also demonstrated clearly that we can build this excellent product at home. That is not to say that we cannot do well or better by honing our skills abroad, in some cases. It shows that we have great resources at hand–let’s say we’re ‘self-sufficient’. We have also been able to sell those development skills and top athletes from other countries now look to train in Jamaica, even with our somewhat sub-standard or limited facilities.

We see the same with school students, poring over books and writing essays and exams to get to that special school of their choice.

So, we know we can find individuals and groups around them who can take on and better anyone. Jamaicans say “No one betta dan wi!” But, we have not (yet) found a way to transfer these strengths and skills to how we perform in our economic activities. We do not see support and collaboration across our communities and social groups. Why this disconnection? I don’t have the answer. Jamaican political, social and religious leaders and experts do not have the answer.

Many Americans or proponents of full-fledged capitalism may say that the individual drive of our athletes give good core material for entrepreneurship. A society that can produce such people must do well. Hello! How has Jamaica missed that boat?

Proponents of a more socialized model of economic activity could say that the willingness of others to support and build others gives good material for a different route to economic progress. Maybe that’s what Michael Manley hoped for. But, guess what? Jamaicans don’t like being told what to do.

20130818-093935.jpgMaybe, Michael Manley had a good philosophy but it could not work through the diktat of a politician, especially when no one could claim total support for that mandate.

Not surprisingly, the success of the athletes is generating questions about lessons we can learn from them. One clear lesson is that we start the process of developing athletes early and sustain it. Does anyone in the country thinks it’s strange to do that? Don’t the students know that you can’t do well by cramming at the last minute? Even criminals like drug dealers understand that you can’t just show up and take over markets in Jamaica or abroad! Imagine, even in crime, we show how to do it well ‘to the world’.

Part of the seemingly illusive answer to the disconnection must lay in the fact that at their core Jamaicans have not strayed far from what seemed to be good in their past.

Our African ancestors gave us foundations of strength, pride, creativity, joyfulness and more. Our experience through slavery taught us how to deal with suffering and oppression, and like our cousins in Haiti, we did not take slavery lying down: the Maroons were not fools or foolhardy. Freedom and the desire to preserve that is a powerful force. We did not suffer oppression without a fight: our National Heroes attest to that.

Those who came from other countries and cultures, freely or as indentured workers, and joined the offspring of former African slaves added many talents, which blended to make what we now proudly hail as ‘Jamaican’: the Chinese, Lebanese, Syrian, Indian, British, German, and other talents added and entwined. You like patties and hard dough bread? You like reggae music? You like jerk food? You like vibrant dancing, traditional and modern? They’re not due to one kind of Jamaican.

Do these diffenrent people all love each other? No. Do they want to live beside each other? Maybe, not. Do they get along? They had better.

We have the raw material to do better. What needs to change may not be very much. Maybe, more of us need to lead rather than be led. Maybe, we need to trust each other and ourselves to get it done. Like the relay team, be ready to hand off the baton, because if anyone drops it we all lose.

A 10 year-old was in the backseat of my car yesterday, next to my daughter, and we were talking about how we like Jamaica for what it is: we were looking at goats on the roadside and commenting how normal that is, for us. People come to Jamaica and may raise their eyebrows when they see the goats, but they serve a purpose and fit our needs. “It’s my country and I’m proud of it, however it may look to other people,” she said. That’s a good start. You can work lots of magic with that attitude. She does not know the chi-chi buses. She does not know about Checker cabs. She can’t fight murderers and defeat scam artists. But, she can strive to be proud of herself and all she does. She can denounce those who try to pull her down, or her family, or her friends. She can spread the word of those who lift her up and inspire her. Out of many doing the same may we make something close to one country.