#COVID19Chronicles-122: August 15, 2020-Is it an election campaign or a sound clash?

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.

PNP “get rid a dem”:

“Designer clothes and shoes like wow…” Alando Terralonge:

Lisa and ‘her money’:

Nigel Clarke ‘snood like cyaapet’:

Dynamic expression: twisting tongues and tongue twisters

If you are the parent of a teenager or preteen, you have probably gone past them singing to songs that you find hard to decipher. That’s part of growing up and living in dynamic societies. Lots of things are done by the young that challenge their elders. We can be a bunch of reactionary fogeys and come out with guff like “This is terrible…”, forgetting the strain that The Beatles or Rolling Stones or Bob Marley put on older ears and senses. But, this and other dynamic developments are occurring, in part as a result of migration and other social movement. Speech is changing. That’s evident in music but also if you are on the street or listen to certain radio stations. I just want to touch on a few examples. My daughter, who’s 10, has been making videos with her friends. One she did was a cover of ‘Fancy’ by Iggy Azalea, which sounded close to the real thing.

Iggy is white, originally from Australia, but moving to the US South in her mid-teens, and immersing herself in hip-hop culture. She raps in an American accent, and uses the expressions and style of black urban areas. Why? Well, it’s cooler and more likely to be hard to understand, so lends itself to being sort of counter cultural. It could be another form of code switching, though an unusual one.

This is but one form of cross over that’s becoming common. In Jamaica, we’ve had similar experiences, where the fringe culture of Rastafarianism, including some of its speech patterns, has captured much mainstream space and attention. Look how readily people recognize Jamaica as an ‘Irie’ place. The notion of progressing and never regressing, as in ‘Forward ever, backward never’, is another instance. So, we accentuate positive verbs and adjectives. We do not under-stand anything, we over-stand. Get it? It’s broader and more complex, though, including the replacing of many common prefixes with ‘I’. Remember Bob Marley saying “I-tinually”?

I heard this weekend how in Jamaica homophobia is capturing expressions. Best example: people go to do number 1 (urinate), but because number 2 refers to the anus, which is becoming a taboo part of the body, people talk about ‘number 3’. Weird. I spent a weekend with some friends and their teens recently and heard the children repeatedly telling their parents to ‘hold a medz‘. I know now that this means ‘chill out’.

All quite fascinating.

So, what will we become? Fear of moral decay gets tongues wagging.

A series of interesting conversations is underway in Jamaica. They have in common a search for higher ground on which to build a better society. That would seem to be a good thing.

I write ‘seems’ because I know that many such conversations often do not occur with all voices having equal weight. Those of us who have done well in the educational system often find it easier to express our views and engage others on theirs. Likewise, those who have ‘higher’ social status can carry discussions their (our) way. Those with political and important business positions also get the floor more readily. Others, who fall outside such groups, may struggle to get their voices heard. So, the conversations need to reach those groups, somehow.

Jamaica is always in danger of making any issue a matter of partisan politics. I can’t stop that, but I don’t have my feet planted in any party camp.

The whole notion of social and moral failings has been an issue in Jamaica as long as I can remember. In much the same way, economic problems have been a part of the national status for decades to the extent that people readily say how they are struggling, or how they have to hustle to get along

Hard times are part of the national narrative
Hard times are part of the national narrative

.I began the day thinking about the notion that Jamaica had misused its independence from Britain. As the day went on and I listened to a part of current affairs discussion about social issues, I thought that these were connected.

Independence premium wasted.

1962: The British handed us our independence, but what did we do with it?
1962: The British handed us our independence, but what did we do with it?

My basic view is that Independence gave us the ‘clean slate’ that many countries need to set a true course for themselves. My impression is that Jamaica never made use of that. Much of modern Jamaica reflects the fact that we took the legacy of the colonisers and just ran with it. Take the nature of our Parliamentary ‘democracy’. What thought had been given at the outset and since to the kind of democracy that really suited a small island society. As time has gone on, we have held on to the winner-take-all system of voting that is largely confined to former British colonies. It is a polarizing system. The tribalism, which we see in our local politics is very much supported by such as  system. The Westminster-style debating chamber lends itself to this polarization, too.

Look at our road system and traffic laws. We have what the British used and left us. As we developed, did we try to change that? As we deal with congested roads, do we seek to break away from that model? I’d say no. As an example, the British do not allow turning on red lights; the Americans do. Do we conceive of allowing that on our roads? No, it seems. Would it help free some congestion? Yes. Why not try it?

Lust for the lustiness. No doubt about it, we used our independence in one special way, We fell in love with ourselves falling in love with each other. It may not even be love. It’s sex and sexual performance. It pervades much of our popular music and has done for decades. As a music scholar, Frederick R Dannaway, wrote: ‘Sex and music go together like ackee and saltfish, and Jamaica is saturated with both from the rent-a-dreads trysting with white women, to the orgies of the Hedonism resort and the indigenous sexuality of the dancehall.’

Mento had the ‘big bamboo’. Ska and Rock Steady (developing during the 1960s) had Prince Buster ‘wreck a pum-pum’:

We had Max Romeo and his ‘Wet Dream’, banned in the UK for its overt sexual references, despite Romeo claiming the song was about a leaking roof. 🙂 He had other songs on similar themes. He must have wanted to be a plumber. 😛

Later genres made much less of overt sexual references, with smooth ‘Lover’s Rock’ developing in the UK in the 1970s, and the more mystical and conscious lyrics of reggae music reflecting aspects of the Rastafarian faith. But the late 1970s, saw the emergence of ‘Ranking Slackness’; slackness is generally sexual, violent or secular. This was ‘ushering in the era of Joe Grine, or Joe Grind, who would cuckold men while they were at work’. From the 1980s, sexuality was made rampant, both in terms of what was promoted (heterosexual acts) and what it decried (homosexual acts and oral sex), and that has carried through into the 21st century, with Dancehall holding sway over such utterances and even stage displays, by artistes and even more by fans. The specifics of the lyrics is less important that the general theme and tone of them. (Read Dunnaway’s article for a fuller discussion.)

So, from Max Romeo, it was a short step to the ‘romping shops’ and ‘pimper’s paradise’. Dancehall, in general, was a battleground for sexual declarations. ‘Daggering’, in particular, and ‘winding’, in general, were dance styles that left little to the imagination. That sexual expressiveness was classless (and lacking in class?), though social groups had their preferences. All of this against a background that is the land with more churches per hectare than anywhere in the world, and which holds strongly that it is a Christian nation.

Maybe, the social nadir of this whole attraction was the sight a few months ago of a Cabinet minister giving a constituent his ‘position statement’ on tree planting policy, if I could quip. What was he thinking?

Agriculture Minister, Roger Clarke, showing new seed planting methods?
Agriculture Minister, Roger Clarke, showing new seed planting methods?

The answer to that question goes far in explaining where the country has gone totally astray.

Globalisation found us asleep. As a small, but beautiful island, whose main attraction to the outside world was the raw materials it could provide for processing (agricultural and mineral), its exotic foods (mainly fruit for a captive market in Britain and the former colonies), its wonderful liqour (rum that is renowed worldwide), and its natural beauty (which helped spawn a new industry of mass tourism on the island), Jamaica engaged the world in a relatively limited way. With the spread of ‘globalisation’ and faster international communications and movement of people, goods, services, and ideas, we were less than well prepared. On one hand, we did not have good defences to protect the things that we cherished. On the other hand, we were not well armed to mount our own attacks. Part of that weakness was a legacy of colonialism: we lost many of our brightest people to other countries.

Migration saved us from facing our real problems. We could not satisfy the economic aspirations of the nation for many years. When the British came begging for workers, we gladly took the offers, and with that went much skill and intelligence. Many thought it would be a short-term trip, but it was not so. Most did not return, and on top, they created a new generation of ‘Jamaicans abroad’. That happened first with the UK, but then as the British doors closed, the USA and Canada had doors that were still open. We now find that some 80-odd percent of Jamaican graduates migrate. That ‘brain drain‘ and wider migration had a domestic upside by providing remittances back to Jamaica. However, those inflows of money and goods themselves created a new kind of dependency in Jamaica, even to the point of spawning ‘barrel children’. But, I am of the view that migration robbed us of talent that could not and was not replaced, so we were substantially poorer and less-developed than we could have been. The minds left the grapple with national problems were fewer and, even if very good, clearly were not all the best.

A ‘brawn drain’ also occurred, and we lost many technically skilled people whose talents were not necessarily well used abroad, and were totally unavailable ‘back home’. Look at the life of many artisans (eg, carpenters) who left Jamaica, to then work in public sector jobs and private factories in England. That broke a chain of training and development that had been an important part of how our society had been renewing itself for decades.

Jamaicans have long shown that they are inventive, however. Yet, that too, helped our downfall. We replaced those brains and artisanal skills with those of the ‘dealer’ and ‘hustler’. That meant we saw people finding ways to turn goods around to make money quickly–a classic form of development evident in many economies, which creates incomes but not much lasting value. It also lent itself to the drive to bring goods in from overseas to satisfy demands that were not being met at home: cars, appliances, reading material, clothing, etc. Higglers made money, so too did car importers. It was easier to procure than produceBut, we also had more money to be made from things illegal, exploiting some of the agricultural products that carried premium prices abroad–drugs, especially marijuana. We grew and sold it, and we also became a conduit for other drugs, and the influences of those who wanted to trade those to bigger and richer markets in industrialised countries.

That link created one of the loudest peals in what was a death knell to those who heard it. The link between drugs and other crimes, and the influx of guns into Jamaica is well documented. So too is the link between these things and politics. This would be a dangerous admixture almost anywhere, but has to be a crippling thing in a place so small. Lay on top of that our tendency to polarize our political positions and you see the origins and sustenance of the ‘garrison’ constituencies (especially in Kingston). That has become so enshrined into the political fabric that it’s impossible to see how any meaningful socioeconomic progress could occur with garrisons in place and vibrant.

Come, cross the river with me? A little later, maybe. (Courtesy of The Jamaica Observer.)
Come, cross the river with me? A little later, maybe. (Courtesy of The Jamaica Observer.)

Jamaica saw the emergence of ‘dons’, and with them the creation of control systems that were not part of the established State, though they could be important to, and supported by the political party machines. 

That nexus of crime, guns, politics, and don control, had its recent best showing in the so-called ‘Tivoli War’ over attempts to extradite a known and wanted gang leader, Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke. That incident, its preceding developments, and its subsequent repercussions, wreaked havoc on a community and a country. But, politicians helped build and sustain the essential fabric of those communities and the lifestyles that became common place.

Tivoli War: wreaking havoc on a community and a country
Tivoli War: wreaking havoc on a community and a country

It’s related aspect, a form of ‘welfare entitlement’ (freeness), raised its known and ugly face recently, in a ‘war’ that had no bullets fired and no persons killed. The local power company, Jamaica Public Service (JPS), had suffered electricity theft and revenue loss from it for many years. The company’s efforts were not making a dent. The major thieves were in areas of Kingston that were co-terminous with the political garrisons. Then, JPS’s CEO had enough: she decided to go rogue. She shut off power to whole communities, laying waste to all who did not and would not pay, as well as those who did pay. Uproar ensued. Within days that move was over. Garrisons ‘under siege’ with no one armed against them? How so? The complaints of the payers were heard most loudly in public. But, clearly, the howls of the non-payers were being heard loud and clear in the ears of the MPs. Strange how many of the major MPs have seats in these areas. Curious and curiouser. So, ‘time to sit down and talk’. We await the outcome of ideas sought and will see what is implemented. But, Ms. Tomblin showed clearly that she had something akin to a ‘nuclear option’ or a ‘weapon of mass (political) destruction’ and was ready and willing to use it.

Living in the political wasteland of fiscal deficits, borrowing and debt. Jamaica quickly began to live beyond its means after independence. It’s not alone in suffering that, especially being a developing nation. It suffered from a series of bad political decisions, which  had severe financial consequences. Tax revenue and borrowed funds were not used in the most productive ways. That’s a catch-all for ‘government waste’. Where the money went, precisely, is worthy of a good forensic analysis. That it was poorly utilised is shown by the level of indebtedness coupled with the state of the economy. Put simply, had the money been well used, we would all be better off than we are: services would be better and infrastructure would be better, at least. We would be wealthier, too, because the money would have been better distributed throughout the population. This is a good topic to discuss itself and some have done it clearly.

This profligacy has made us very good friends of somebody that we see as an enemy–The International Monetary Fund. The Fund has a mandate that is about managing national and international finances well. It was set up to deal with balance of payments problems, and these were seen as mainly the result of mismanaged public finances. To fix these problems, the Fund urges austerity. Webster’s defines it nicely: a situation in which there is not much money and it is spent only on things that are necessary. ‘Belt-tightening’ is a common metaphor. It means financial pain for most of a nation. They end up hating the IMF. They often cannot bear the pain. Politicians get scared they will lose power, as a result. They bend or break the agreements. The people sigh with relief. The problems remain, however, and in short order, the politicians and technicians are back on a plane to Washington to discuss again how to fix what they did not deal with properly before. The process starts over. People squeal. Politicians reel. The international airlines and hotels do very nicely, thank you. This process can go on for years, even decades, with no end to the problems, because countries have election cycles and politicians are sensitive to these. They like to have their pants and skirts loose coming up to such times when ‘party’ is the word of the moment, in more ways than one. Elections over, they have to deal with the hangovers. “Hello, is that the IMF? I have this really bad headache…” So, Dr. Fund is back in the consultation room.

Jamaica has been on that merry-go-round so often that it’s dizzy and ready to throw up. With wobbly legs, it’s now trying again to see if it can walk away from that sugar-induced desire to have just one more ride. So, ‘Hello, Austerity!” This time it will be different? So far, it has been. But, frankly, the time of good behaviour has been really short. Having myself been one of the dreaded ‘doctors’, I see Jamaica needing to be on the medicine much longer than it has shown the stomach for in the past. Jamaica’s major problems with this style of economic problem solving are several, but most important are:

  • Lack of national consensus that it will help (economic policy is an easy political football);
  • Credibility (governments have been ‘economical with the truth’ so often that they lie first and tell the truth afterwards as a matter of routine) [what countries often fail to realise is that the lies are usually quite transparent and the Fund sees through them quickly, and has all the time in the world, usually, for that realisation to take hold because it holds the purse strings];
  • Leadership: not the sort that has people saying airy-fairy things and meaning none or few of them, or the absent type which involves large amounts of handwaving, kissing babies, and smiling into camera lenses. But the sort that involves standing up in front of the nation and stating firmly and often that “I believe that this is the right thing to do. It will hurt us all. We all have to make sacrifices, including me and my ministers,” That last part is often missing, so the nation says “Yeah, right!” as they see the grandeur undiminished: new SUVs for all often mean that leadership is absent;

    Tighten YOUR belts
    Tighten YOUR belts

    large delegations on foreign trips often give the same signal. Everyone travelling abroad in economy often gets a smile and a loud clap. Tell me what you see, and tell me how much applause you’ve heard. Take your time.

The jury is out on Jamaica and its current IMF programme. As they say, Jamaica comes with a pedigree that is not that good.

A clear consequence of all or most of these developments, which is not exhaustive, is Jamaica is paddling a boat in very rough waters, with some oars that are rickety and a boat that has leaked badly and often. It’s more likely to sink that stay afloat. Those aboard the boat are mainly poor swimmers, so most wont survive.

Jamaica has not faced up to its deficiencies very well or often. It has a hard time looking in the mirror and seeing what most of the world sees. So, all of the above rolled into one means what? Jamaica is a laughing-stock, but has not seen that it’s role as a jester hasn’t altered much in the minds of others, despite a few performances that are of stunning brilliance. Take that to be the emergence of ‘stars’, like Bob Marley in music, or Usain Bolt in athletics. They make the nation look and feel good, but they do not reflect necessarily any underlying process that says “look at what and who is pressing behind me who is as good or even better”.

Why are we the laughing-stock?

Which Jamaican understands what integrity means? Clearly, we have problems identifying what it means to have integrity–the quality of being honest and fair; the state of being complete or whole. Our record of failed IMF programmes is essentially about our lack of integrity. We may start well, but look at our finish. In the world of politics, we need not look far to see that (and I cite this simply because it’s an obvious example, caring not one jot about the person or the party. Junior minister, Richard Azan, and the Spalding market scandal. Yes, there was no criminal case to answer according to the DPP, but the Contractor General’s finding of political corruption still stands. The minster’s reinstatement by the PM says that perceptions of inappropriate political behaviour do not matter to domestic rulers. That is the clear message, whether or not it appears in the New York Times or London’s Guardian. The problem is that, the rest of the world does worry about that perception. Jamaica is seen as a place where corruption is not taken seriously: vote-buying, cronyism, and other such activities are in the same vein. I would be shocked of the next edition of Transparency International’s Index does not show a marked decline for Jamaica. It keeps itself in the room of ‘undesirables’

Jamaicans do not understand conflict of interest as it is accepted internationally. The size of Caribbean (or other small) countries poses problems less present in larger countries. Our human resources are spread thinly. It is not uncommon for sitting MPs to still function in their professional capacities, eg as lawyers. This could raise all sorts of questions in many countries, but in the Caribbean, we just roll with it. In Jamaica, we do not see this problem, but we also do not see the general problem of conflicts of interest because we look at people in posts and to judge them as people and what we think of what may be their intent–if that is good, we see few or no problems. But it’s what they do, not who they are, that cause the conflicts. This is the essence of most corruption. The policeman with a long and exemplary record, who tries to ‘help’ someone avoid a charge is guilty of trying to pervert the course of justice. Jamaicans will lament the loss of a ‘good man’ and not see that he did a ‘bad thing’, maybe even finding reasons to somehow justify the acts because of the small amounts of money or value of items involved. I could mention the actions of the minister overseeing energy policy and his trying to get another government agency to ‘change’ its views. We can search and find too many instances that are recent, let alone delving into the past.

Jamaicans want to hold up religion as a shield and act badly and leave the judgement to God (or whatever equivalent deity is chosen). The world, even if on the same religious wavelength, will want to make its judgements sooner. Our mantra could be “We are a Christian nation. We want to sin so that we can all be saved.” So, we rack up a catalogue of sins that are so long and horrible they need to be shared out amongst several countries to seem tolerable, but we have them all hanging on our backs: murders, rapes, violence against children, robberies, scams or other financial malfeasance.

Our discussions on sexual and family matters is mostly disingenous. We focus on many things wrong sexually, but most often we want to touch the fringe of the bedspread, but not the mattress. Our general licentiousness is not what we want to talk about, but prefer to look at the marginal behaviours that we want to tell ourselves are about to ‘destroy’ our society. So, good old heterosexual libidinous behaviour is not up for discussion. Over 80 percent of children born in Jamaica are out of wedlock, yet we get all sanctimonious about the value of families and the importance of marriage. That herb is really good!

We love bun and cheese, well, the bun mostly. I sleep with your girl; my wife mustn’t know. My wife sleeps with my best friend; but I’m too ‘busy’ to know. We all lie about it. I father a baby and give the mother some money, if I feel good. Or, I fight to defend the fact that it may not be my baby. We wrap our concerns in religion so long as that does not stop us doing what we do–a little wrong is alright, don’t it (to use the Jamaican phrasing).

See a man dressed as a woman in a play and we get all frothy and screaming for the hills: “Lock up your children!”. But, wait. Isn’t that Usain Bolt dressed up for a lucrative ad?

Beat our women, and our children too. Call it ‘discipline’. Like the slaves from which many of us came, we know how to keep the minor persons in their place. Show them who is control: grown men. Don’t forget it.

These ‘blockages’, at the very least, stop us having what is necessary, an honest talk with ourselves. 

I hear people calling for all kinds of reconsideration of where the nation is going. It is a hard thing to solve without laying out all the pieces of fabric that are to be stitched back together. Much focus is on some social shreds: parental responsibilities; education systems; family structures; etc. These are all important, but they do not exist in a vacuum. Their relevance is not uniform and the problems are not solved by one set of actions. If I am employed, live in a nice and comfortable home, with good amenities around me, and have enough income to step over many of the national barriers, my life will be easier to redirect that if I am unemployed, live in a wooden shack with a dirt floor, have no sewerage, and have violence facing me at every turn.

The conversations are needed, but we have a long way to go to set them in what I think are the right frames of reference. Those are, however, the ones that I see and think are important. Lucky me, if I can get others to agree on all or even some. Remember, I have said I have no political axe to grind. Once people take their partisan stances, the discussions can go on as long as they like and the colour of the glasses will drive them where they will. I wish I could see enough people stepping out of their red/orange or green skins long enough to figure out what is really common and focus on that. But, they are often tight-fitting and really hard to pull off. Maybe, that piece of adjustment needs to be seen first, if the talk is going to go anywhere. Am I optimistic that can take place? Short of a natural cataclysm, not really.

A former PM speaks. A nation listens…for a while, anyway.

 

 

Lyrical genius: stardust in my eyes

I’m going to try my hand at being a lyrical genius. I read recently that this attribute may save me from society’s wrath later in life. I have lived and loved, and laughed and cried. I’ve seen the world before I died. I am a man of the streets, and I feel the beat of the slums–where I was born and raised, but managed to move from after many years of study and work. So, after years of hearing from my children that I should write down the ditties I sing to them, here goes. music-notes

I went to the supermarket looking for baking powder,

Instead, I found an instant mix for making clam chowder.

Chorus: Oh, the life I lead. Oh, the life I leeeadd. Oh, the life I lead.

I brought that to my wife and told her what I’d done.

She rolled her eyes, kissed her teeth, and said “Well, Hon’…”

Chorus: Oh, the life I lead. Oh, the life I leeeadd. Oh, the life I lead.

My child went to school with a bun up in her hair,

She had a big wide smile and her teeth were crystal clear.

Chorus: Oh, the life I lead. Oh, the life I leeeadd. Oh, the life I lead.

She told me her teacher had given her an excellent grade,

I wanted to hug that teacher but was totally afraid.

Chorus: Oh, the life I lead. Oh, the life I leeeadd. Oh, the life I lead.

My neighbours all work and some have second jobs

We know we’re the lucky ones, so hold back our sobs.

Chorus: Oh, the life I lead. Oh, the life I leeeadd. Oh, the life I lead.

We often go to church, we sing some hymns and psalms,

We try to be helpful and put money in many palms.

Chorus: Oh, the life I lead. Oh, the life I leeeadd. Oh, the life I lead.

We look for inspiration from those we love so dear.

We kiss and we hug and feel the happy cheer.

Chorus: Oh, the life I lead. Oh, the life I leeeadd. Oh, the life I lead.

We’re afraid of people who have guns, and fight and rob,

We know that sometimes that’s done cos’ a youth has no job.

Chorus: Oh, the life I lead. Oh, the life I leeeadd. Oh, the life I lead.

So, I call all fellow citizens to look around and see,

That the life they lead should have no enemy.

Chorus: Oh, the life I lead. Oh, the life I leeeadd. Oh, the life I lead.

With luck, hard work, a good sponsor, a chance to go on television and radio, and be interviewed by some press media, I may see my simple life transformed and that I become what my daughter calls ‘a celebrity’ (today’s ‘Celebrity Day’ at her school–how fitting).hd-musical-celebrity-wallpaper-156002-1-s-307x512 I wont turn my back on my friends. I do feel that I need a stage name, though. I like the Bohemian sense that comes from being hailed as ‘Twenty Pence’. From henceforth, that is how I want to be known. I also need to find a bandana for my shaved head, and maybe I need some earstuds. Oh, my wife would love that!

 

Other props? Great, I just found a bill cap for the Heart Foundation. Wicked! Next, some big jewellery. Where does my daughter keep her Mardi Gras beads. I need a cross: that religious symbol will mark me as good at heart, if not great and smart. (Rhyming thoughts!) I’m feeling it, now. Celebrity status, I’m coming!

I’m on a roll, so will lock myself outside in the garden and see what other aspects of life come to mind and let me have the chance to earn millions from writing about them. Hum-hum-hum. “The engine of the car was sounding very sick/I think I sense a problem with the new gear stick/…”

Leaving on a jet plane. Are we there, yet?

Blame me! My little daughter is becoming a good observer of people and more. We were travelling through Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA, to its friends) yesterday. Airports are great for people-watching and seeing how people just mess up things. On the messing up, NMIA has the unfortunate distinction of being better known by its often misspelled name: check the entries under Normal Manley International Airport. As good an eggcorn as I need to read.

We like NMIA, though. It’s been upgraded recently, and we were enjoying its ‘deliverables’. We enjoy it, not least because it has the best food for travellers, coming from Jamaica’s own Island GrillIsland-Grill-Logo-700x352 chain: tasty, cheap, and filling are what most travellers want, and get there. We had come straight from school and were early for our departure, so she tucked into a fish sandwich combo with mango peach drink, and I ate a chicken fricassee yabba, regular, all for less than US$10 equivalent.

We had been waiting a while before we were allowed to board. As we stood at the head of the line, we read the large poster put up by the airport authority with ’20 interesting facts about Jamaica’. Interesting yes, but facts?
image

Hmm. We noted that it had been put up when Usain Bolt had only 3 Olympic medals. We wondered if updating was not part of the budget. Shame, we thought. We noted that it mentioned the Manchester Golf Club as having the ‘oldest hotel in the western world. Eh? Shamer. They mean golf course. Who did the fact checking? I pointed out to my daughter the fact about ‘it’s inhabitants’: that should be ‘its’, Daddy. (School is paying off.) Shamest.

As we prepared to board the plane to Montego Bay (MoBay), my child noticed two women standing behind us. “They’re twins…Both have the same weave. They have on matching leggings and tops,” my daughter stated, confidently. Children spot people’s physical features and clothing quickly. I pointed out that they were not wearing the same type of suede shoes: “But, they’re both wearing boots,” she retorted, quickly. We wondered why they were going to MoBay. As we moved through the first check, one of the ladies said to the other at the top of the escalator “Mek sure yu ha one foot pon di step,”; her friend was clearly stepping into new territories. The ladies proceeded to the gate, ahead of us, then made a huge fuss about the lateness of the plane’s departure. We were still ahead of time, but it seemed that we would not take off on time. A mechanic explained that the plane had come from “Up deh…an a ‘hole ‘eap a snow an’ ice deh ’bout.” The plane had needed to be washed down after being de-iced. Did the ladies want to fly with the risk of not making it? It had also been fully cleaned: “De peeple dem eat an’ leave all a dem nas’iness. You don’t want dat!” The ladies seemed mollified. As we went to the airbridge, one of the ladies was pulled over for ‘secondary screening’: welcome to air travel. We passed them, then pretended to complain, too, and raised a few smiles as we strolled onto the plane.

When we got to MoBay, the two ladies followed us from Immigration to the baggage claim carousel. A man then asked them how they knew this was the right one. They told him they didn’t know, they’d just chosen one with some people standing around. Again, clearly newbee travellers. As the bags began to roll around the belt, and were being cleared, I saw one of the ladies haul a huge cloth suitcase off, then haul off another. Higglers (vendors), I thought. If you’re not familiar with Jamaica’s street or market traders, get a funny insight by watching clips for a play.

I speculated about what they had in the bags. I presumed they were headed to MoBay to take advantage of the many visitors there this weekend for the annual jazz and blues festival, which has been running since 1996, and draws much attention from Jamaican and foreign fans. It’s an expensive event, by Jamaican standards–cheapest ticket is US$50 (and it’s to be paid in US dollars). But, that should mean some deep-pocketed potential buyers. The informal market at work on the island: where there’s a crowd, look for opportunities to sell your wares.

My wife/my mother was in Mobay for a work event and staying at one of the fancy north coast hotels. The hotel staff greeted us at the airport and arranged our ‘transfer’ to the hotel. “Have I been here, before, Daddy?” my daughter asked, as we left the airport. I told her she had, but when she was much younger. “It looks familiar,” she said as we drove on a piece of road on which she’d never travelled. The van driver told us that the city was busy because of this week’s jazz and blues festival, and that some celebrities may be staying at our hotel. My daughter was really enjoying her latest taste of good living and we joked that the driver did not realise that he had ‘celebs’ in the van with him 🙂 She took it to heart by trying out her impersonation of Jamaica’s PM, Mrs. Portia Simpson-Miller, waving her hand in regal fashion and saying “My people…”, one of the PM’s signature phrases. I cracked up: it was pretty good. She kept on saying it as we reached the hotel, and were greeted by a bellman.

It had taken us just over 4 1/2 hours to get from her school to the hotel, by plane. I told my daughter that it would have taken about the same amount of time to have driven. But, we were not exhausted from the drive, which we could do another time when we had more days to play with. “No problem with tiredness on the drive: I’d have slept,” came the nonchalant reply. Therein, lies some of the fun of travelling a lot with children. We know how to make the time pass on journeys. Well, sometimes.

The good, the bad, and the ugly (January 26)

Good

The Shaggy Make a Difference Foundation has donated the proceeds from the Shaggy and Friends charity concert on January 4, totalling J$70 million (about US$700,000), to the Bustamante Hospital for Children. (Press reports indicate that private donors included DJ Squeeze of Linkup Radio, who gave J$1 million, and athlete Yohan Blake, who also pledged J$1 million. Other donations included US$20,500 from Food For the Poor as well as J$389,200 via the Digicel Text line. Corporate donations included J$3.75 Million from SportsMax and Jamaica National Building Society, which handed over US$8,110 after a pledge to donate US$1 from the proceeds of each money transfer from the United States to Jamaica between January 2 to 15.)

Bad

Press commentary about a report on Education and Crime was shoddy and unfair in referring to ‘prison schools’ and suggesting a causal relationship between school attended and likelihood of imprisonment. Government reaction, notably by the Minister of Education, to criticisms of the report were also casual. Not surprisingly, many teachers have reacted negatively to the report and commentaries.

Ugly

An 18 year-old black South African skier, Sive Speelman, Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 2.33.17 AMfrom a poor, rural area in the Eastern Cape where it snows, has qualified for the coming winter Olympics in slalom. But…the South Africa’s national Olympic committee has decided that Speelman isn’t good enough, so denied him the chance to compete. This move has been criticized in South Africa and abroad. Speelman is outside the top 2000 but amassed enough points to gain eligibility to compete in the Olympics. In the association’s words, it wants “to ensure participation…is of the highest quality…unfortunately will not be delivering (sic) him to the Winter Olympic Games.”

Jamaicans are exceptional

Jamaicans are exceptional–in the truest sense of that word. They like to feel special about themselves, and they like when others treat them specially. If they are not given that special treatment automatically, they usually extract it, sometimes forcefully. However, this exceptionalism is not necessarily always a good thing. Let’s look at some examples of exceptionalism in Jamaican daily life.

Driving can be tedious: roads are narrow and traffic is sometimes heavy. Jamaican exceptionalism comes into play, however, when drivers decide that it is within their rights to drive on the wrong side of the road. Why not? It’s clear, or at least, mostly clear. So, off they go, blaring horns and flashing lights at oncoming vehicles and drivers who mistakenly think that they have right of way. If the oncoming driver dares challenge with gesture or comment the ‘exceptional Jamaican’, woe betide him or her as a barrage of cuss words come flying forth like water from a power hose.

Do you ever go to an airport? Try flying when Jamaicans are travelling. Weight limits? Baggage limits? What foolishness, is this? Jamaicans always travel with lots of heavy bags, because they have lots of relatives and friends abroad who need to be fed with the goodness that is Jamaica–patties, fruit, liquor, pepper. When Jamaicans are returning from abroad, then naturally they have to come back with all the goodies that foreign places offer. It makes sense. Who can travel with one piece of carry-on luggage?

“That hefty bag that is being hauled wont go into the overhead bin, madam.” Who told the air steward to say that? “Young miss! That is my special bag with the jewels given to me by Granma Beatrice. I cannot let it go into the hold. You’ll have to drag it from me!” So, a fracas ensues, and much cussing and vilifying of whatever country the air steward represents. The less-exceptional Jamaicans on the plane are covering their faces and keeping their heads low.

Jamaicans sometimes have really thin skin when others decide to show them disregard or disrespect. Trinidad is getting the brunt of that right now, after 13 Jamaicans were denied entry and deported. Now, the ire of Jamaicans–in the pursuit of their right to enter any and every country they wish–is in full flow. Anything related to Trinidad is now a target. Boycott! Ban them! Deport them! It was the same much of last year, when Barbadian officials felt inclined to physically abuse a Jamaican woman while denying her entry at the international airport. The regional courts agreed with Jamaicans that they were exceptional that Barbadian officials needed to get themselves out of people’s underwear in the pursuit of border control.

Jamaicans are now wholly accustomed to being exceptional in the world of athletics. If there are three medals to be won, Jamaicans want them all, and all of them to be gold. Imagine our frustration during the last Olympics, when we had four men in the 100 metres final. Of course, we took the first four places, and had we really focused, we would have arranged a dead heat and forced the giving of four gold medals. As it was, our quartet gets the top four places, take three medals and make sure that the world understands by winning the 4×100 metres relay. We are the best, so why fret about the rest?

Jamaican exceptionalism is about to face a stern test. We have a singer who is trying to bust her lungs and impress American audiences. Tessanne Chin is a typical Jamaican–evident when she opens her mouth and says “bred and butta”–who has an exceptional singing voice. Now, every Jamaican expects Tessanne to win on The Voice, and if she does not, then it is one big plot by Americans. Of course, our barely 3 million Jamaicans here can’t out vote 360 million Americans. So, we have to convince a lot of them to vote for our girl, by phone, or online (Twitter handle @Tessanne). Some of our brethren and sistrin in America will vote for Tessanne, of course, but what can we do to get about 359 million non-Jamericans to vote for she? I would love it if our Prime Minister, rather than heading to China or Europe to talk up Jamaica, went to America to talk up Tessanne. That’s an exceptional gesture that would be very much in keeping with thinking that Jamaicans are the exceptions that prove the rule.