Over analysed and under performing, Jamaica loves twiddling its thumbs when it could save lives-June 9, 2021

It’s a sad truth about this lovely island that most of our problems are well-known, much analysed, but we’ll short of corrective action.

It doesn’t have to go to major socioeconomic or political issues. It’s there in the little or everyday things.

For the second time in a week, a car has plunged off Flat Bridge; a basic bridge with no side barriers, over a raging river. What could go wrong?

Many accidents, including suicidal ones happen there. Yet, the plain sight problems stare us all in the face and simple solutions are languishing.

Much like Jamaicans don’t know about defensive road behaviour such as warning a reversing driver or not walking behind a reversing vehicle, we’re not much into preventative barriers. Drive on any of our hilly or mountain roads and warnings and barriers for dangerous curves are as visible as pink elephants.

Why do we resist tried and tested life-saving measures?

Simpletons like me have said often that Jamaicans don’t really treasure lives, despite their ready hang ringing. Look across the range of instances that involve lives put at risk. You’ll find a level of negligence that’ll make you shiver.

We’re our own worst enemies.

What’re you saying? Jamaicans and their mysterious English-June 8, 2021

A good and well-educated Jamaican friend shared his state of distress that many of our compatriots don’t know the difference between “fewer” and “less”. The basic difference is described by Merriam-Webster: There’s a commonly repeated rule about fewer and less. It goes like this: fewer is used to refer to number among things that are counted, as in “fewer choices” and “fewer problems”; less is used to refer to quantity or amount among things that are measured, as in “less time” and “less effort.”

I suggested that he save his angst for those who actually were taught this rule and others in English grammar; many were not. It’s like know that you’re supposed to use the possessive with a gerund. 🙂 [A gerund is the –ing form of a verb that functions the same as a noun. For example, “Running is fun.” In this sentence, “running” is the gerund. It acts just like a noun.] (Sorry, if you weren’t taught that early in English lessons (if you had them). The rule is that we often put a noun or pronoun in front of a gerund to show who or what is doing the action in the gerund. In formal writing, the subject of the gerund should be in the possessive form: Your leaving early was a wise decision. We celebrated Gord’s winning the contest. I use it in both speech and writing.)

Jamaicans do a number on many aspects of what is called standard English. I don’t bother getting anxious about it, simply because most Jamaicans don’t know or speak standard English as their first language, despite all the official guff about being an ‘English-speaking country’. If ever a lie had taken on a life that of its own, then this must be up there.

Now, there was a time when education was such that some Jamaicans could proudly boast that they had mastered English, fluently, even though they spoke Patois first and probably as fluently. It’s one reason why migrating to England was less of a struggle, at first; most could at least understand what English people were saying, even if they could not match accents and tone.

My parents could write excellent English, having gone through high school and passed many exams. When they went to England, they had little problems with written English, but took a while to master how Londoners spoke. I became their conduit, absorbing the local lingo faster, as a child mixing at school. So, their mastery of English was never a brake on their progress.

Back in my childhood in Jamaica, even people who had little formal schooling were focused on ‘speaking properly’ in certain situations, ie like English people. The downside of that was to sneer at the use of Patois in formal public settings. That attitude still pervades a lot of Jamaican thinking, as some bridle when they hear its use in presentations. I’m not going onto a defence of Patois in any setting a person feels more comfortable using it.

I speak a few languages and can better accept that what works in the moment is what works best. Case in point. A French lady called me yesterday and as soon as I saw her caller-ID I answered in French, even though she soon reverted to English. That’s how it should be. I flip between languages easily, and my youngest daughter and I often have conversations that are a fluid mixture of languages, even swapping mid-sentence.

Modern-day Jamaica can’t boast many people with many basic English skills. It’s often painful to go to a formal event and hear a high-ranking official trying to speak proper English and falling over (h)every word as ‘e ‘andles his prepared remarks. It’s grating.

Jamaicans have a bit of a love affair with the pomp(ous) aspect of their association with Britain. So can’t understand this fawning to former colonial masters, but life’s like that in lots of former colonies. The French spoken in west Africa is often impeccable. The ‘servants’ had to show the ‘masters’ that they could master their ways of communicating, amongst other things.

Such skills were the key to success, once upon a time, along with lighter shades of skin. But, as things change, and people’s approach to language rules slips, some still don’t want to let go of what they took time to learn and be proud of. I don’t have a problem with that. Much as I don’t have a problem with knowing how the apostrophe works, and many having a clue of it’s its or its’. English is difficult, so ease up and move on, if you can. 🙂

Now, if my friend had wanted to mount a crusade against the use of ‘persons’ instead of ‘people’, I’d have been at the front of the recruits. 🙂

Admittedly, this one is a bit harder. Again, citing Merriam-Webster: People should always be used when a collective noun referring to the entirety of a group or nation (i.e., “the French People”) is called for. For references to groups of a specific or general number, either people or persons may be used, but modern style guides tend to prefer people where earlier guides preferred persons, especially for countable groups.

So, using ‘persons’ is archaic/old-fashioned, and therein lies some of the issues with English in Jamaica, and the Caribbean; it’s stuck in time…in part, because, it’s not the living language of most people, and that what tends to happen with second languages. 🙂

A little taste of returning to near-normal after #COVID19Life-May 29, 2021

The USA is further advanced getting through the pandemic than most countries, so it’s been interesting to experience that for a few days.

Last night, we had our last meal together as a family, in a restaurant. It was somewhere that my youngest and I had eaten in February 2020, for my birthday. It had been a nice experience at a restaurant I know from one of its other locations in Virginia, J. Gilbert’s. But, we were unsure what the experience would be like this time.

So far, I’d dined on burgers and had the ‘everything comes in a paper bag’ experience, eating inside. It was fine, but no one else dined inside. There were 3 different stations for pickups: online, delivery, inside. I asked the staff how things had been since the pandemic began and heard a lot about how things had evolved and continued to do you.

My wife and eldest daughter went to a pizzeria and ate outside. It was a blistering day. The food was great and again the story about dealing with the pandemic.

Restaurants can’t just change their physical or personnel options quickly as rules change.

Operating has been hit by lower demand even if some increases came from online ordering or for delivery.

Last night, we found staff all masked but customers encouraged to remove theirs, and not have to ‘lift and bite’. We had a waiter who was as enthusiastic as any I’d ever met, and knowledgeable about the menu.

Reservations were for 2 hour blocks and 5-7pm suited us. We were all due to travel early on Sunday.

It was good to see a near-normal dining room in action, again.

We’re not there, yet, in Jamaica.

Gleaner Editorial-Time to put justices of the peace to work-May 22, 2021

The following was published in The Gleaner, today.

There is justification in continuing to explore pathways to a safer Jamaica because we believe the future of the nation hinges on how well citizens can be preserved to make their contribution to nation-building.

News reports tell us that many communities are in crisis. Familial structures have broken down, resulting in vicious and sometimes deadly confrontations, caused by feuding among partners, siblings and children.

On top of that, there is the ever-ready supply of guns that it seems children are now holding guns before they are able to hold a book. As a nation, we recognise that we are all affected and must be prepared to collectively confront these difficult issues.

But we need not wring our hands in frustration, for the country has the requisite human resources, if properly directed and monitored, to make a difference in the way people behave in their communities. For example, we believe that a key community resource, not fully exploited, is that of the justice of the peace (JP).

Delroy Chuck, who heads the justice ministry, has recognised that this group has huge potential and has often referred to the critical role JPs can play in the administration of justice. He has been steadily recommending new appointments to increase the cadre of JPs across the island, and has ramped up training through the Justice Training Institute. 

Currently, there are more than 12,000 JPs in the island, and they are no longer restricted to offer service only in the parish in which they were commissioned.

WORKING CLOSER WITH POLICE

If, as the name suggests, justices of the peace are meant to keep peace within a specific community, then they should take on a more active role in mentoring and nurturing community members who are facing difficult times. Indeed, we see the JPs working closer with the police to identify trouble spots, or to offer counselling and comfort where necessary.

To his credit, Mr Chuck has been introducing a number of features to modernise the way JPs are appointed and how they carry out their duties, and these are contained in the Justice of the Peace Act 2018. The role of JPs, for most people, is to certify documents or preside over Petty Sessions (renamed Lay Magistrates’ Court).

JPs are required to do much more, such as visit prisons to ensure prisoners get proper care, as well as children’s homes and homes for the aged. We believe, if these visits were being done as intended, some of the atrocities that have been uncovered in these facilities could have been detected and corrected long before they reached crisis proportions.

In the new dispensation, JPs are supposed to submit an annual report to the custos, which would give a summary of their activities. We applaud this attempt at accountability, for this will help separate the active from inactive.

MENTORSHIP SKILLS

Mentorship and nurturing skills are in great demand in many of our communities, as the role model figures are steadily diminishing. The JPs, who have intimate contact with their communities, should be trained in these skills as well. For a time, appointment of JPs was marred by charges of cronyism and political patronage. These were not persons anxious to serve their community, and it was reflected in how they performed their duties. Also, charges of corruption and demanding pay for work formed dark clouds over some JPs, which caused them to lose some of the community respect they used to enjoy.

We think Mr Chuck has made a good start, but there is so much more to be done. There has to be a weeding out of inactive JPs, those who are morally or ethically corrupt, and the lazy ones. We tend to create new agents for change, instead of refining the ones we already have. We see here an opportunity to build a strong force for community enhancement and, ultimately, a better future for Jamaica.

Soldiering on-May 7, 2021

I don’t live in an area of Jamaica that is under either a state of emergency (SOE) or in a zone of special operations (ZOSO), where the presence of soldiers is a commonplace, sadly. I see vehicles carrying soldiers, often, on the highways, and occasionally, I see them alongside police patrols as I drive around the country. But, oddly, I see them most often on the golf course. What? The Jamaica Defence Force often use the areas around Caymanas Golf and Country Club for training exercises. It happens to now abut some areas that are in SOE.

However, as I went out for my regular walk and practice around dawn, earlier this week, I saw a ‘jeep’ with about four soldiers come into the car park. The vehicle went past the caddy area then came back with only two sitting in the front. The vehicle then drove off.

As I went to start my walk, I saw two young soldiers standing looking at their mobile phones, rifles by their sides, absorbed with messages.

Absorbed by the contents of the bag

I said good morning and asked if they’d been left there; they had. I joked that they had been fooled by the old trick that someone would come back for them, but would eventually have to run about 15 km back to base. The light went off in their heads. I giggled and went on my walk.

They seemed to take it for granted that I was not threat, but, is that really the smart attitude? What do I know about military training and always being at the ready?

We say we care for women, children and the vulnerable but we don’t show it in Jamaica or in the Caribbean-April 18, 2021

Once again, in the wake of some high profile incidents, political representatives, media and many of the public clamour to yell how awful the latest incidents are. The current flavour is domestic, or, intimate partner, violence. Here’s the PM giving a typical plea about domestic abuse:

Sadly, not as seasonal as the weather, we’ve heard and seen these concerns before.

I see nothing other than words that we will act to address the issues.

We do this a lot-make noise and announce but take no meaningful action. If you disagree, I suggest you search over the past decade and more and I’ll be shocked if you could find facts to contradict me.

For context, the Caribbean has a rotten reputation for all kinds of abuse, especially of females/it’s endemic:

‘Globally, 1 in 3 women have suffered physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. This year, newly released data for the Caribbean have confirmed our fears: nearly half of Caribbean women surveyed in 5 Caribbean countries face at least one form of violence: physical, sexual, economic, or emotional. This is unacceptable and should motivate all of us working and living in the Caribbean into action to end this violence.

By George, we’ve not got it! Wright and wrong about domestic violence in Jamaica-April 17, 2021

I don’t want to speculate about what happened between a man and woman that involved an assault with a chair. I’ve lots of questions about what the video ‘evidence’ shows, including whether it captures the true start point of an altercation. I’ve also heard or seen no text to go with that visual evidence. But, I know many have not bothered to weigh any of that and made their judgement, to which they are entitled.

For the moment, I will share what has been stated officially, and see if this becomes more than another Jamaican 9-day wonder in the court of public opinion.

The police case concerning George Wright, MP, and Tanisha Singh has come to a halt, for the moment. Both had made formal claims of an altercation between them. A video surfaced that purported to show the incident. Neither has decided to take the matter further. The hands of the JCF are tied, as far as criminal matters go:

The political ramifications are still rumbling on in their early stages. Mr. Wright looks set to leave the ruling Jamaica Labour Party and take a position as an Independent in Parliament. He may also take a leave of absence from the legislature, while investigations into his conduct continue:

Public opinion is only just getting formed and it’s possible that Mr. Wright’s political career will be ended as a result of the incident:

A clear bottom line, for me, is that domestic violence cases are difficult to mount, legally, and thus hard to resolve through the courts. We’ve seen little or nothing, publicly, from either party, and the trauma is something about which we can only speculate.

In this case, we can assume that no protections are afforded to either party in the altercation.

Remittances to Jamaicans are up-April 10, 2021

Support from the diaspora has been a critical part of Jamaicans’ coping during the pandemic. The financial help has risen strongly over the year (+20 percent).

The best explanation has been that travel restrictions has meant fewer opportunities to bring money to the island on trips, so money transfer services have been used, instead.

Globally, the picture has been mixed, with Jamaicans being standout gainers.

#COVID19Chronicles-292: January 24, 2021-Death duties in Jamaica

No police showed up to check on how well COVID protocols were being observed at the burial. Restrictions on funeral services (banned) and numbers at burials (maximum 15 people at the burial site) have been in place for months.

I’m not surprised the police didn’t show because the ‘road’ was not good; not terrible, but bumpy and narrow.

Apart from the man who appeared at the start with a cup of white rum and Coke, and was clearly talking in tongues, everyone wore a mask and tried to be socially distant. He wanted to be closer to the coffin as it entered the sepulchre 😳

Current rules are that funeral services are banned. The ‘pre-burial’ event was taking place in an open field, just up a hill from where the burial would take place.

Chairs had been set out 2m/6 feet apart, and only enough for about 20 people near the casket. More chairs were available and those who used them found spots on the grass verge across the road from the tent where the body was.

The sepulcher had been prepared and a pile of sand and cement was ready for when the concrete was to be mixed and the casket placed inside it.

It was an overcast day, thankfully; trees had been cut down and back to make space for the burial ceremony. But, this is a area filled with trees and bushes growing wild, adjacent to a couple of houses.

It was a nicely elevated spot in south Manchester.

After the ceremony, the casket was slid down a slope into the sepulcher and blocks cemented into the opening. Then, people started to wander away and grab a box lunch and drink; some found places to sit and eat, we took ours to carry. I took my baked chicken and ate it en route to Kingston. (I’m fasting, so wanted to eat so that I could just about stay within my current eating window that closed about 3pm.) We stopped at the yam park on the highway and a vendor rushed to offer some roast yellow yam. Sorry! No carbs. 😳😩🇯🇲

Raindrops appeared just as we set off again and followed with solid rain for about 20 minutes. A rainbow arced across our path as we hit the highway-nice send off 🙏🏾