I was a guest yesterday in a wide-ranging discussion live streamed on the WI Global Facebook platform. We covered a lot of ground in over two hours on how to reboot the English-speaking Caribbean island economies: regional integration, investment thinking and oppportunities, dependence on tourism, and education—all within the framework of what the future focus should be coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Have a listen, in full or in part, and feel free to get back to me with any reactions.
I am not the giving up type. Months ago, I felt that one thing missing from life in Jamaica–and it is almost perfect, if your eyes are closed, and all you do is feel the warm breezes and smell the fresh fruit. Jamaica lacked an ability to have a good laugh at itself. Then, one of the major newspapers, not renowned for taking itself or anything lightly, started to poke its finger into the national eye. It unveiled two columnists who seemed to not give two hoots about offending most of the nation’s sacred cows. They started to take jabs at the best singer the island had produced since Millie. They took on the haughty icons of religion, though, I noticed that they did not make any allusions to how this body can get away with constant cross-dressing in a country that breaks out in hives when it sees its top male athlete dressed as a woman in a television ad. They did not seem to have any barriers, save the number of hours available in a day, in between performing Caesarian sections or writing another yet-to-be-hit play on Broadway. Dr. Michael Abrahams and Keiran King have been a breath of cool air in the otherwise always heated atmosphere of discourse in Jamaica.
Every time, I feel like taking a sardonic or satirical swipe at something in Jamaica, however, we hit upon a tragedy that makes be halt and hesitate, not wanting to seem in bad taste of insensitive. But, I think I just have to step into the cow pat and not worry too much about the squishy feeling that I may have in my toes; it may be a dry one, anyway.
So, where to start? I had to good fortune to leave Jamaica over the weekend. The price of that decision is that I now have no voice. That’s a problem in a country where people love to use the phone to call, at al times, and for all reasons. “You reach airport, yet?” No, I’m still in traffic. “You clear immigration, yet?” No, I am in the line and not supposed to be using my phone. That reminds me that Jamaicans are very obsessed with their phones and the new fangled features, such as WhatsApp and other messaging programmes. When I was getting off the plane in Kingston on my return on Sunday, a lady was standing stock still in the middle of the corridor heading to immigration. I asked her if she had a problem. “No. I just have to read the messages now, coz I can’t do that when I get up to the desk.” I understand the anxiety that doctors or politicians may feel after not being able to get messages for 90 minutes, and maybe the lady was on medicine or politics, but I had a feeling that she was just checking what Sherleen had been saying about Cavada and her new boyfriend Taquan.
Anyway, back to fleeing the island. I was amongst another band of ‘Caribbean’ brothers and sisters, in Nassau. The Bahamas are not in the Caribbean, but they are in our regional organization, CARICOM. Bahamians have had a long modern history of being invaded by other Caribbean nations: they had policemen, teachers and nurses come from Barbados to work; they had Jamaicans come to be domestic workers; they had Haitians fleeing poverty and natural disasters to work as gardeners and odd jobs men. They have a little love and a lot of dislike for many of those ‘West Indians’. But, they put most of that aside by being ultra fanatical when they were watching their athletes try to make it to first place in a bunch of running events, called the World Relays. They upped their self-love. A policeman met me in the stadium, and I was decked out in the bright gold, with flashes of green and black, that is the Jamaican flag’s colour. “Welcome to the best island on Earth,” he told me. I smiled, and gave him back a little sweetie: “When did Nassau become a suburb of Kingston?” I asked. He smiled and twirled his baton, as if he were ready to make an exchange with me, then raised himself to his full height of 6 feet 5. I took the message and walked up to my seat with my box of fired chicken wings and fries.
Being away gives me the chance to see what is usually up close from afar, but I also get to see how others see what is Jamaica. A lady I sat next to talked to me about “How Jamaicans are so violent”. I know she meant our horrific murder rate. But, she said that while her own island is in the grip of a chronic upsurge in murders. We block out all else, it seems. “But, you all have some great musicians, but why do you always have to sing about sex?” I didn’t have an immediate answer for that one, but I know that the local stations play a lot of Jamaican dancehall music, so I presume that the ‘sex’ sells. “Bey, your people can run fast.” I had to agree. Yohan ‘The Beast’ Blake had just blazed down the track, dubbed the fastest on the planet by Bahamian PM, Perry Christie (whom I had hope would shuffle for the IAAF offiicials while he begged for more years of hosting the relays). Blake anchored the 4×200 metres relay team to a new world record, eliminating a 20 year old record held by a team anchored by the grating Carl Lewis. He would get it in spades from Jamaicans moments after, as he has had little to say that was good or complimentary about Jamaican sprinters, and has often cast aspersions on them. “Whaddya say, now, Carlee? Na-na-na-na! Our record, ooh!” The conga line would soon start swaying.
So, the trip ‘a foreign’ was a good escape, seeing us at our best. The crowds were well behaved and the Jamaican massive was numberous. Our influence was greater than on the track. I went to get food and was pleased to see the longest line in front of a stall with a sign saying ‘Bellyful’: it was serving Jamaican food. Ackee and salt fish–named ‘cod’; boiled ‘food’ (which looked like green bananas and yam); and escobish fish.
What the…? Esco-what? I looked more carefully at the sign. They had ‘dumplin‘, too. I should have been grateful that they left it at that. But, I also saw the ultimate food insult: ‘peas n rice‘ Oh, my G….! No! Jamaicans cook and eat rice and peas; it’s cooked with red peas (kidney beans) and coconut milk. Bahamians eat peas and rice; it’s made with pigeon (gungo) peas and may have salt pork in it. THEY ARE NOT THE SAME! Changing the words around is not a trivial difference. A nuh di saym sinting nun at all. Cha! I need to talk to the Jamaican High Commissioner in The Bahamas.
Fortunately, my memories of The Bahamas is filled with episodes that are much less distressing that that at the food stall.
I got back to the island on Sunday afternoon. I had missed the traditional Labour Day holiday projects, and I looked around for signs of what had been done. New cross walks? Freshly painted police stations? Newly manicured roadway bushes? I didn’t see a dicky bird all the way from the airport to my uptown home. I checked the online papers. People had been wielding paint brushes, machetes, and brooms island-wide, but not that I could tell.
What had they really been doing? Well, a good amount of tracing and cussing of other people. PLEEEASE! One MP had decided to deride anyone of the opposing political strip with the adjective ‘dutty’. Well, that’s not nice, at the best of times. Name-calling is more than a bit childish, but when you are in the school playground that passes for Parliament, what else should we expect. The man is a trained mathematician, though. Come up with something a bit more creative, eh. How about ‘you lopsided Pythagoran’, or ‘you unsolved differential’? At least, pander to our intellects.
I’m sure everyone would have preferred an hour more of what the now-MP was saying in the video. You plus that, multiply this, minus the next one, and you gone clear. I know that when you put all that chalk on the blackboard, you must make it clean again. No one wants to work with a ‘dutty’ board.
Another of the ilk had decided that a funeral was the place to put forward a new platform: ‘Vigilante justice: where we cut only what is needed’. Well, the post of finance minister is not vacant, yet, but we know where to go if we need someone ready to wield the hatchet. I blinked. The world was still sinning around me. I don’t drink. It must be something in the air.
Both politicians have issued apologies, so that makes everything all right, and we can get back to some good fresh cussing, now that the air and slate have been cleared. That’s not how it works? You want admonition from their party leader and maybe sanctions from her or the local parties? What country you living in man? This is a democrassy. We cherish our freedom of speech. Bring on ‘the band of 12’.
I had left the island just after a massive crowd of 12 people had been parading with placards in protest at what they thought was an attack on freedom of speech. The mainstream media had given this credence with a saturation coverage that was mind-boggling: front page spread, extended interviews. This for a group who wanted to complain about the undue influence and power of a lobby of not-likeminded people. The fact that ganja seeps into the blood stream from many sources hit me. I could feel myself swooning again as I turned my head back to its proper position. The ‘protestors’ were due to mount another ‘massive’ display on Monday. I did not catch the news, but again, I saw the papers. The media really should get out more and tour the country. We are regaled with scenes of people wailing and thrashing themselves about in ‘ghettos’ over water leaks and police harassment and indiscriminate shutting off of electricity, and we know that thousands and affected, but the coverage of the ‘band of 12’ must take the biscuit for misuse of resources. Let them post a blog with pictures, rather than giving all that free airing on the back of the profits that the TV stations and newspapers should be making.
So, I am back to where I started. We need to step back more and take a good look at what and who we are. I am not into real self-mockery of the kind that say “I hate me, lousy Jamaican!” But, I know a buffoon when I see one. We need to laugh at the man who is always putting out his had for ‘a food’ only to withdraw it when food is offered because he really wants ‘a money’ to buy something else. We need to wonder how many policemen sitting in the shade of a tree does it take to catch one of the hundreds of speeding drivers going along the highway? Is that a radar gun or merely a prize from some flea market? Oh, it is more fun to just lean against the squad car and joke about the latest news from INDECOM?
I need a good belly laugh and I may have to just provide the material myself. I want more of Roger Clarke trying to convince me that cows will not be flying over the moon, which is the only way they can be stolen and not spotted. I need news of another project important to the nation, but about which no one has any details, yet, but ‘will be revealed soon’. I love Chinese food, but it also gives me heart burn.
Jamaica! Jamaica! Jamaica, we love you!
The day has arrived: the first annual IAAF World Relays will start this afternoon. Jamaica is represented by a team of 40 of our best runners, and will face stiff competition from opponents coming from some 43 countries. Unplanned, my daughter and I became honorary team members, when we travelled to Nassau squuezed together with stars like Yohan Blake and Warren Weir. They’re members of our reigning 4×100 metres World Championship gold medal team. My daughter had not missed her photo opportunity with ‘The Beast’ at Kingston’s airport.
She spent most of the flight tongue-tied whenever he turned to speak to her. I wanted her to appreciate that great athletes are just ordinary people, like us, but she had him elevated on a pedestal.
At the airport, we’d seen, however, that Jamaicans feel their athletes are ordinary. Kerron Stewart, one our finest female sprinters, was sitting alone, quietly making some phone calls. I prodded my daughter to say hello. Just as we were doing that, up strode another lady. Bold as brass, she looked at Kerron and said “I like you, but yiu run all wrong. You need to push your foot out so.” She motioned with her leg. My daughter and I looked quizzically at each other, then at Kerron, whose eyes were looking a bit worried. “But, we love you just the same,” added the lady, who then walked on. I don’t want to be size-ist, but the lady looked like a black Tamara Press with a waddle. “Does that happen often?” I asked Kerron. “Yes,” she replied. We gave no running advice just a warm encouraging word and walked away, shaking our heads. Apparently, Jamaicans are all qualified coaches and commentators. That’s what friends of our close to the team told us. What a people!
Well, the runners have trained hard to represent their countries. The fans have supported or suffered loyally. The Bahamians have been starved of major relay successes, compared to Jamaica. But, if noise matters, they’ll come to succeed on the support side, with goombay drums booming and cow bells clanging. I wonder how others will support. Vuvuzelas have gone international. Will Germans and French have accordions? Will Canadians croon like Justin Bieber? Please, no. The British? No stop ‘Rule Brittania’? I will let you know. I have my whistle.
My biggest fear for the meets is conflict between the fans. My wife and her family are true-true Bahamians. They bleed aquamarine. But, their son-in-law has clear Jamaican roots, though he’s been adopted as a Bahamian over the years. The boy even rushed in Junkanoo one year, something his wife cannot claim. His mother-in-law has nursed roast turkey neck for him many times. Surely, they can count on him this weekend.
Well, relationships have hit rocks before. The boy has an array of black, green and gold colour to choose from in his shirts. He has a cousin high in the Jamaican team administration. He’s just gone back to his birthplace. He’s feeling his Jamaican rise. He’s noticed he bleeds green and gold when he shaves. I feel a CARICOM regional disintegration moment coming.
That he may side with Jamaica may have to be accepted. But, will he tempt some defectors? His daughter? Already, a Jamaican team hugger? Her cousin, who claimed loudly between tearing into BBQ ribs and chicken that “Blake in the M.A.N.”? It could get messy, like his sauce-covered fingers.
I can hear the lawyers now: “Your honour, our client admits irreconcilable differences began to appear during the heats of the relays…He begs for yiur honour’s understanding and let him keep his golf clubs, while relinquishing all other assets…”