If Jamaican politics were the FA Cup Final

Today’s my daughter’s birthday and to celebrate, in her absence, I’m giving myself licence to be the Dad I am—a bit loony.

I’m a former footballer of not bad skills; think Adama Trouré with dashes of Wilf Zaha, on the right wing, mainly, sometimes on the left, as I was a good player with both feet. I was also a midfielder in later years, both right and left—energy bunny—and even played sweeper and full back when I was a player-manager—wide head. Gawk! Have to do everything, myself!

I often see sporting parallels in lots of life—I’m also a former sprinter of decent ability as a teenager.

I was singing Earth, Wind and Fire’s ‘September’ to myself when I saw something about one of our political leaders. So, I wondered how things would be if, we were just savouring the FA Cup Final—played under COVID-19 rules, with very few spectators, but the usual intensity. Belmont (aka ‘The Bells’, playing in their familiar green and white and sporting footwear from a new sponsor), just crowned league champions, again, played Hope Academy (aka ‘The Academics’, having their roots in the intramural university football scene). Hope played in their usual orange and black, but their uniforms looked a bit worn and rumours of financial troubles looked to be true.

Belmont really rang the Academics’ bell, much like Leicester shellacked Southampton last year 9-0, coming out easy 4-1 victors; the win was sealed by half time. A couple of decisions had gone to VAR, but nothing really mattered to the overall score.

So, let’s peep into the dressing rooms and hear the managers’ team talks. First, let’s listen in on Hope, whose manager, in his 70s, is more like a Roy Hodgson figure—having steered the national team through some tough matches some years ago, but now trying for success at the club level. He’s somber and not given to rashness. He’s a local, and goes by the nickname “The Rock”:

“Put the blame on me. I led the team. We weren’t well prepared. Up front, in defence, especially in the middle, where we lost control and gave away the ball too easily. Damion, you had a shocker. Sorry, mate, truth hurts. You wanted all the plays to go through you, whenever we released you into space, you turned around a million times, your hair got into your eyes—those locks, mate—and you shot the ball at our goal at lest three times! We couldn’t win with that. Buck up, man!”

Damion was the team darling, and though he’d left the club a few times are being booed by home and away fans, had decided to give it another go, and had been awarded the captaincy. The Rock turned in frustration and said:

“You know, stuff this for a game of soldiers! I think you’re not serious and I don’t see that I need any of this, now. We’ve just had our heads hand to us, and as I’m talking I can hear you catfighting over who’s going to get the Digestive biscuits. What a bunch! You, Bunsome! You talked a lot before the match, but where were you when we needed someone to get stuck in? I’ll be surprised if you don’t get put on the free transfer list right away.”

“My health is a bit dicey and I’m in the vulnerable category for COVID; my family is really where I should focus. I’m done! The owner and director can figure out who they want to run this show, but it ain’t me.”

Along the corridor, we can hear the frenzied singing of a winning team: “Campeon! Campeon!…” We ease the door open, and the players are spraying each other and the gaffer with what looks like huge bottles of pineapple soda. Champagne will come later, we imagine. But, let’s get a bit closer as he gathers them together.

He’s another local manager, who likes to be called ‘Brigadeer’—he’s a natural leader with boyish good looks; he’s much younger than ‘The Rock’, and not as experienced, but he’s just come off a superb season—his team had an unassailable lead in the table, before COVID-19 forced all matches to be abandoned.

Little had got past his team in league games, especially on the wings, where masterful coverage was offered by two relative newcomers, Cameron Jordan-Smythe (a polyglot, who spoke the many languages of football style), and “Faithful’ Wilberforce, whose tactical brain and positioning meant being at least a move ahead of any opponent, and had grabbed her chance to impress when one of the team stalwarts was suspended in mid-season.

Some of his flamboyant forwards, were often wasteful in front of goal. One especially tricky dribbler, Darius Vasco de Gama, who has Brazilian blood, had really skated on thin ice once too often with match officials and seen the red card for some reckless play. He had a public tongue lashing from the manager: “His judgement has been poor! Really poor!”. A couple of seasoned players had also tipped the boat badly by getting into some money trouble and hanging with the wrong crowd, and had to be suspended for a number of matches—Rogelio Rendon and Andres Vietlief. But, the team had regained its confidence, come together well, blending some players thought well past their prime, with some stunning young talent, and sealed the deal once matches resumed in mid-June.

Here’s Brigadeer:

“What can I say? We did it in the league. We put in the road work and our legs stayed strong, even after the little lay off. We showed stamina; they took water breaks, we just sucked up the air and stayed focused. I love it! Hands in, on five, ‘My team!’. You know I don’t like pointing to anyone but myself for our successes or our failings—though we’ve few of those, eh. Hehe! But, I want to say a word about Nilesy (Niles Christensen). He came from Iceland and I really wasn’t sure he’d survive in the rough and tumble of our football, with its faster play, tough tackling, and some hostile crowds. But, he did. He had everyone on the carpet with his calm distribution. Nilesy, you’re the man, our MVP. My other word has to go to Cristoph (Tottenburg, for the media). Boy, did you come good for us after the break; re-energized and it seemed that no one could mark you. Untouchable, mate! I know you’ve ambitions to try a club in Europe, and whispers are Barcelona are interested but so too are Bayern; or you may just say it’s your time to manage a team. Whatever, happens, good luck, and I really appreciate the dedication and the vision. Kristoph!”

We’re being waved away, now, as the team looks to say a few words in private prayer. That really was a good look at how defeat and victory sit on the shoulders of players. Back to the studio.

Jamaica, likkle but tallawah, so why not try to break the Macaroni world record?

My teenaged daughter, a bright and energetic child, has had the advantage of seeing much of the world already. She’s, however, grounded herself with the fact that her heritage is Caribbean, and many of the things that make that special centre on how pleasing it is to eat and prepare certain foods. She knows, for example, that no matter what anyone close to her but outside of her family my say, and no matter how strong may be the protestations of voices coming simply or collectively from other nations, no one…no one makes macaroni (cheese, pie, or whatever it may be called) like her ‘ Grammy’ (her mother’s mother, who is Bahamian). I suspect that sometime during her development she was infused by the voice and sentiment of her pregnant mother uttering phrases, in between deep breaths, about how to cook macaroni. I had had nice macaroni cheese growing up in England, but quickly to realize that I had been badly misled in believing that the way it was served to me was in fact the best. I now know better, and betting a good husband, when my wife offers me a piece of her mother’s macaroni cheese, I only hesitate to ask if it is (my favourite part) from one of the corners.

Fast forward. I was talking to my daughter in the car earlier this week, on our way home from school and discussing how in certain fields you have not ‘made it’ until you become the subject of a cartoon. It has happened to me, and I’m sure it happened to her mother, though I cannot recall when or where.

However, I hoped my daughter understood that ‘making it’ in politics is also about making sure that positives don’t get outweighed by negatives, and in that sense, cartoons can be a double-edged sword because they may characterize the good and the bad as seen in the eyes of the public, or at least of the cartoonist.

What I should have added, is that in the world of politics, it’s also important to not be associated with things that are the butt of ridicule.

Fast forward, again. If you’re in Jamaica and you don’t know about ‘Macaroni’, the hapless Coaster bus driver who tried to drive though a flooded stretch of road and got his bus stuck, then I am truly helpless in your case. I suggest, you find remedial help from any of a myriad collection of religious groups that are willing to keep you out of touch from reality.

Now, for the government of the day to be associated with the ‘tactics’ of ‘Macaroni’ is indeed sad, but also a classic example of what happens when attempts to manage the narratives of public discourse cannot work because reality constantly turns out to be far more ridiculous than even the wickedest of satirists could imagine. In that vein, I am going to just point to two recent instances and leave you to following the breadcrumbs. A hint: governance, cronyism. Nada mas! Well, never mind what people say, look at what they do.

Can any one politician be more ruddy tone deaf that him?

How much macaroni can you buy for J$190 million, and how many cars or SUVs would you need to transport it around the country? My guess is 18, which could easily maintain a smooth ride over the verdant (green) terrain even at the highest-end of the island.

I think Jamaica could do wonders for its image if it had a crack at breaking the world record for a macaroni cheese. Do you think the current administration wants to back this idea?

The joke is on who? You!

The human condition has several things that cause it discomfort. One of these is embarrassment. When people are the subject for that, they react in many ways. Some show anger. Others show a contrite spirit. Some take a chance to laugh at themselves for being sensitive. Some are so hurt that they withdraw from public sight for a while. Other reactions exist.

The person who caused the embarrassment also has a set of reactions. He or she may feel that the objective has been met, and have a sense of satisfaction that someone or something has been ‘brought down a notch’. The person may feel embarrassment, too, if causing embarrassment had not been the intended result; so, we have two sets of embarrassed people, maybe, each saying “I’m sorry…No, I’m sorry.” A range of emotions sits between these two positions.

Mix the two sides of the embarrassment and you have enough emotional roller coastering to keep you busy for months. The cause of the embarrassment might have been a joke. Was it as intended? Did it go wrong?

A few days ago, we had an instance of a senior government minister trying to make a joke about rape, and it did not work. Many people were incensed, and not just women. The ‘joker’ did not see the problem, so dug in his heels. A lady senator was offended and, possibly, embarrassed. Within a day, the minister issued an apology for any offence caused–not for the joke, note.

The public seemed to accept that embarrassment was not in the minister’s nature, so it got the best it could have expected. Is there any remnant of embarrassment with either party? We may have to await their memoirs.

Over the weekend, a prominent academic used her literary skills to throw out an article that was something likely to embarrass those associated with a prominent Jamaican all boys school. She mixed the words ‘old boys desire male sex’. She hit her target on many levels.

I read the article and thought of the Lynne Truss book ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves’, and how it made punctuation powerful. It’s an old trick, and word play is great for allowing the writer to have her cake and eat it, too.

Many Jamaicans can only read ‘boys desire male sex’ one way: it must mean homosexuality. Except, it doesn’t have to. Desire is a wonderful word for creating ambiguity: is it lust, or want, or wish? Without explanation, we guess. Right or wrong. Sex, too, is ambiguous in English. Does it mean simply gender–a noun, or is it a verb for a sexual act? Mix them together and watch the pot boil.

I got the impression that the professor of literature was sitting at home, comfortably, on Sunday, giggling as wrath began to pour out towards her. Like playing with fireworks, she had lit the touch paper and the chemicals would explode.

I read the piece early on Sunday morning and thought ‘she went there’. How gullible would people be? Who would take the bait? Well, lots of people, it seemed. The new meter of social commentary, Twitter, was reportedly lighting up. Some had unbridled anger, to the point that they threatened bodily harm. Others saw the joke; some laughed heartily, others tittered, some thought it wasn’t that good as humour. But, who cares about the quality of the joke?

If the professor were a professional comedian I’d imagine she would care that some criticism was centered on the quality of the humour. That’s like people ignoring a rock thrown through a window because it was all jagged not a nice smooth stone. Really!

Even the pros have a bad day. Rory McIlroy won a huge golf tournament thanks to a mishit shot. But, he won. If Roger Federer wins a Grand Slam with the help of a few net cords, he’s still the champion. Cha-Ching! Comedians bomb. Writers have books that flop. Great athletes fail. Life goes on.

I know the professor is no stranger to unpopularity. She may not feel like Dave Chappelle who was heckled off stage last year. She may not feel like an enraged Kanye West, when some in the audience did not want to stand up when he requested that. One was a disabled person. Oops!

I can’t see her getting huffy about the words of the rankled. They can write, too, if they’re so bothered. Inhale. Exhale.

I wondered how people deal with the daily assaults in the papers at the hands of the cartoonists. Do we have a nation of bruised egos, wailing and gnashing their teeth at every slight? Maybe, that’s why our productivity is low.

Dr. Michael Abrahams is making a name for himself as a poker of fun at the high and mighty, and the huffy and puffy. Is he getting away with it because he’s a gynecologist? Keiran King tried to stir up the body languid by hitting cherished subjects where it hurt most–sexual preferences, religion, and more.

I feel for those who fell for the bait. I can sense embarrassment in the outrage. That’s life. The reason the outrage and embarrassment came about was also because of some degree of insensitivity by the school in question. It claims to want to stay true to its constitution and keep its reunion dinner all-male. That seemed to be forgotten when it wanted the then-PM to be its guest speaker in the 1970s. He was such a prize. He wanted his wife to come, too. Deal. Then, in the past two years the school reverted to let women attend. Some felt outrage, and up came the constitutional argument. Up, too, comes the ‘stick with tradition’ argument.

When you don’t want something to happen, pulling up old rules often seems to be a refuge of choice. Jamaica’s full of it, when it wants to be.

Times have changed. Some want to be part of it, some don’t.

Parodies lost? What Jamaica’s ass-soles may tell us

I was looking around Jamaica for proxies of our economic well being.

It occurred to me that the number of donkeys seen in use could be a good proxy of the activities of the rural sector. The country is more country than town, and living off the land is still critical. More donkeys means that farmers are doing well and needing to get goods to market in a timely manner, but not resorting to costly motorized transport. A donkey eats almost anything fibrous, of which a farm working well will have plenty, so fuel is less of an issue.IMG_1332.JPG Let’s call this the ‘ass’ principle.

I also wanted to get some idea of how poverty was striking people. So, I thought the number of people walking without shoes would be a reasonable proxy. IMG_1333.JPGNow, I don’t mean barefoot of the beachy, chic style, with French-Polish, but those hardened, scaly peds, which could be mistaken for hooves. Even though bare feet in hot weather can be very cooling and is liberating, I’m taking the view that for the purposes of most modern life, so cladding would be good. Let’s call this proxy the ‘sole principle’.

Based on the number of each seen, I will construct an ass-soles index, a simple ratio of one to the other. Given that there are many more people than donkeys, I expect the ratio to be less than one. I’m not clear what a reasonable figure will be, but I will start compiling my data to see how the ass-soles compare. I think the index for Kingston will be much lower than for rural areas: fewer agricultural activities, though one sees asses all over the place; more soles, because it’s the capital and people have flocked there to save their skins, lose their souls, and ended up footloose and shoeless.

I may need public help to get national coverage, so would be glad of any offers to see how the ass-soles in Jamaica have been performing.

Sitting on a rock will give you piles?

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.

Bellyfull of laughs, if nothing else
Bellyfull of laughs, if nothing else

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!


Read all about it! David floors Goliath!

During a week when I have been thinking more about Jamaica’s problems and solutions to them, an IMF staff visit occurs. Those of us who follow Jamaica’s economic misfortunes can point to this latest visit as another step towards solving a well-identified problem. We’re far from out of the deep, dark economic woods, but we’ve seen light at the end of the tunnel. Enough of the mixed metaphors.

An article in yesterday’s Gleaner, entitled “Tessanne-Mania Is A National Embarrassment” has put some of my people into a spin. (I digress immediately to acknowledge our Prime Minister celebrating 40 years of political representation. Hip, hip!) Two paragraphs from the piece struck me (my emphases):

We’re used to crumbling infrastructure and rampant crime, to heat and heartache and hurricanes. We’re used to being 83rd in transparency, behind Mongolia, and 145th in literacy, behind Micronesia, and 188th in economic growth, behind Montenegro. We are used, in short, to being irrelevant. Our sights are so low that one woman moving from modest to outright success is cause for mad celebration.

And that, clearer than anything else, is the sad revelation of Tessanne Chin’s fame. That, louder than anything else, is the embarrassing message we broadcast to the world with our irrational exuberance, punctuated by the prime minister’s congratulations.

First, I took the piece to be more tongue-in-cheek than a simple critique. Perhaps, I’m being generous in my reaction. Others took it literally and have begun the march on The Gleaner building to search for the author’s head. I’m not naming him because some argue that it was about his ego and search for quick fame as a new columnist that led him to write as he did about the latest hero that Jamaicans have seen. I’ve been searching for more signs of satire–‘the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues’. It fits the bill well. So, I moved on.

Next, I thought about the grains of truth. We have been ‘irrelevant’–though I think that term is wrong. Our low ranking in many areas that show human and social development could be interpreted as pushing us way out of the sight of those who only look at those who excel in those areas. But, then, I remembered somethings about economics and statistics. I recalled that it’s good to look at data that have not yet been counted and to test the hypotheses again. I saw the many areas where our ‘irrelevance’ was not apparent.

From our barely 3 million national population (many more if you count our migrants and their offspring)–world irrelevance writ large, in itself–we’ve produced the fastest man of all time AND the fastest woman of the present time. Of course, records are to be broken. They both came from the mire that is Jamaica’s broken social and economic mould–Bolt, from the inadequately served rural areas and Fraser-Pryce from Kingston’s ghettos. In her words (my emphases again): “I didn’t become just another Waterhouse statistic but someone who could uplift the community, who showed something good could come from anywhere in Jamaica. Even the ghetto.”

But Usain and Shelley-Ann (we are good friends :-), man) were not alone and isolated in their feats, because our relay teams showed we had the depth to go with the individual strength. That we could win all three medals in an event said a lot. 1-2-3 is historic, truly monumental.exuberance

They came from our limited ranks, and when they excelled we joined them with banging pot lids, blaring horns, excited screams, dancing in Half Way Tree, millions of phone, text, and email messages to whomever we knew as we let our ‘irrational exuberance’ flow. I remember the day Bolt won the 200 metres final in Beijing. I was just on the road from Mandeville to Kingston. A security man at a local bank had his rifle pointing in the air, yelling “Bolt win! Free money!” Shame on you, sir. I trust that he calmed down and got back to quietly guarding the cash of the customers. Yes, we’re really touched by the greatness that some of us can display against the world’s best, to an audience far bigger than we can imagine.

I don’t think I need to go far down the road to get to other times that we have shown our irrelevance. Today, February 6, is the birthday of Bob Marley (born 1945). It’s also the birthday of ‘Bunny Rugs’ (born 1948 as William Clarke), who died this week. As life’s little twists go, we have two of reggae music’s greatest icons and ambassadors born on the same day. Two more diamonds in the rough. Jamaica went into another bout of ‘irrational exuberance’ when Marley tried to fix what politicians had helped break and unite a deeply divided country, that was on the verge of wrecking itself in a civil war-like manner. ‘Bunny’ put fabulous new meaning to the term ‘Third World’. His fellow band member, Richie Daley, said “It’s the little things that he would do every day”, when talking about the legacy Bunny left. What an apt phrase. Jamaica can easily be seen as an irrelevance, but can change with lots of little things done every day.

When I think back to my life, taken from Jamaica, raised in England, moving to America, and now back to Jamaica, I cannot think about the irrelevance of the country of my birth. I cannot see how people react to the successes we manage to achieve as irrational exuberance.

In London, I lived next door to a small football team, in England’s lower divisions. They did what many ‘minnows’ dream of doing: they got to perform on the big stage and wowed the crowd. In the case of Queens Park Rangers (QPR; third division), they got to a national cup final, the 1967 League Cup final, at Wembley. They were against West Bromwich Albion (first division, and the cup holders from 1966). David versus Goliath. Minnow versus shark. QPR went behind 0-2 by half-time. They came back to win 3-2.

But, QPR became a ‘national embarrassment’. As noted on Wikipedia, ‘QPR’s victory caused a problem for the Football Association as typically the League Cup winner would qualify for the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, but one of the criteria for that competition was that the team must come from the highest tier of that country’s league system. QPR was replaced in the following season’s European competition by a First Division side.’

I was not yet a teenager at the time. I was growing up in England supporting this little team, whom most of London derided for its lowly status, compared to Tottenham, Chelsea, West Ham or Arsenal. I cried when we won (we!). I was not in the stadium, BUT I WAS THERE! We won. The world took notice. But, soon, I cried when I learned of what would happen to our chance to play in European competition. Kicked in the teeth again, for being uppity and killing the hero? Too small to fight back.

David had downed Goliath, but now needed to get back into his little hole and forget about what had happened. Get back to irrelevance, varlet! But, it did not happen. QPR won promotion the same year, and won promotion again the following year to rise themselves to the top flight of English football, for the first time in their history. They had scaled the highest mountains they had faced. Greatness, bigness and richness are not the same, and they showed that.

A true fan is nothing if not full of irrational exuberance. Tell those teams who feed off the support they get from the home crowd that the crowd is full of irrelevance. Some places you do not want to go and face that rabid fervour. The Jamaican diaspora became that kind of crowd. Happy to cheer wildly, madly, irreverently, especially when they thought that they had to do that to even stand a chance against the cheerleaders-in-chief, the USA. Three million versus 360 million? Jamaicans said they liked those odds.

Let me stop before I bring myself to tears. Jamaica’s story is all about how ‘we little but we tallawah’. I’m not going to rail against the newspaper columnist for his approach to something that I find symbolically very positive–how a country that appears to have so much dysfunction can produce so much that is great, not just by our estimation but by the better gauge of world opinion. Jamaica has been nothing if it’s not about hope against adversity.

Remember how we were irrelevant and full of irrational exuberance when our political leaders decided to stand up against Apartheid. REMEMBER! The first in the western world and second in the world to officially ban travel and trade with the South African regime. REMEMBER!

I think the columnist chose the wrong target for his arguments, but it’s a free country and good for him and his career (he’s also a playright, apparently) if he can use the springboard on which he now stands. Ironically, he wrote about Tessanne Chin. The idiom, ‘taking it on the chin’ (meaning to accept misfortune courageously or stoically) seems so fitting, sometimes for the life that we have to live in Jamaica.

To quote Claude McKay’s poem, If We Must Die:

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursèd lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

Mock us, but do not forget our nobility.

Jamaica, land we love

Jamaica is known as the land of many things. In our most romantic moments, we talk about the land of wood and water. If I were to be in a cynical mood–and it does take me, sometimes–I might say that it’s the land of ‘would’ and ‘wait here’, as in ‘Wait here, would you, I’ll go check in the back…” Living in Kingston, I also know it as the land of wood clogging up the water in the gullies.

We love studies, especially expensive ones done by foreign consultants who are very expensive. We love them even more when they tell us things that locals have known for years, but did not have written for them in glossy, bound reports. Last week, Jamaica started down the road of another of its characteristics–the land of nine-day wonders. People got excited and upset about the correlations in a study of crime and education. Criminals went to schools (admittedly, many of them did badly there), so schools must be remedied. I bet all of them went to the bathroom too, so I hope no one will come to our houses and rip out our toilets. Hot on its heels, I hear that a number of other studies are likely to be launched in recent weeks.

One study of a stratified sample of prison inmates shows that the last meal most (67 percent) of them ate was a beef patty. Many others (25 percent) had eaten chicken foot soup; while the rest had eaten a variety of other things. The correlation coefficient was over 95 percent and the margin of error was just 2 percent–whatever all of that means. The government will now be looking to deal with the issue of what breeds criminals by regulating what patty shops sell.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA These will be ‘refurbished’ so that only soy or callaloo patties are sold, knowing that the consumption of red meat is related to an upsuge of anger (not forgetting its harmful health effects in terms of heart disease). So, in one bite the government will eradicate crime and improve national health. Chicken patties will soon be for the chopping block, too, as they have been suspected of being behind the spread of salmonella outbreaks. Three cheers for the government!

Jamaica has a place named the ‘Land of look behind‘. This could easily have become the nation’s capital, not least because it fits well the people’s real nature of being ‘difficult and inhospitable’. That is a finding in the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, so it’s almost as good as if it were from Wikipedia. I side with that interpretation, because it helps me understand why it is that some commentators marvel at what Jamaicans do to make it through each day.

Jamaicans are nothing if not creative about the obvious. Yesterday’s papers included a few articles about extortion. The kind of thing that was featured was how people are offering ‘parking’ near the US Embassy in Kingston for the many applicants who go there trying to get visas. Jamaica’s not like the USA or UK, where parking illegally will get your car clamped; it may be towed, occasionally. But, people like to park cars where they think it’s convenient–usually, just for them, despite obvious inconvenience to others. In rural areas, parking on blind corners, or the crest of a hill, are common tricks. In town, parking on sidewalks or driveways, or alleys is common. Good parking means good blocking of someone else, and if it means double parking then that’s double fun.

I digress. Some youths take people’s money, park their cars, sometimes wash them for another fee, make sure the cars are safe for the persons while they spend a few hours with Auntie Samantha hoping to get a pass to the Promised Land. But, this piece of entrepreneurship is scorned. Jamaicans call it ‘hustling’ or ‘exaction’. It seems, in good look-behind fashion, that we’d prefer if the young people sat on street corners, smoking and drinking and just being good and idle–having been prepared for that by schools (we know). We’ve 40 percent unemployment amongst 16-24 year olds, so let’s get that figure up above 50 percent. We can do it!

Of course, we don’t have the snazzy parking lots that festoon many American cities, where people can park their cars, have them broken into, be mugged or molested, or engage in illicit information exchanges under cover of darkness. We have that to look forward to. Of course, because the US Embassy offers no parking and nowhere in the area was designated as public parking for the many applicants, we’d prefer it if people drove around for many minutes, searching for parking, missing their appoitments, getting visa rejections, and having to go through the process again after the lapse of some months. Progress is only hard if you try to make it.

Jamaica is also the land of “In God we trust”. It must be so. Last week, we read about police ‘death squads’. Yesterday, I read that 60 percent of those arrested for corruption are police officers. How else could I go forward with the exhortation I saw in the press to “Help Cops End Extortion“? Look, if the love of statistical analysis has taught us nothing, we should be able to understand the spiral unlogic of asking us to help the police-crooks to be uncrooked. As many Jamaicans suspect, the ‘brains’ behind many schemes happen to be people who are supposed to be upholders of the law. Would you sit down with a crocodile and share a plate of grilled ribs?

Stones set to mark parking spots, for which payment will be 'requested' (courtesy of The Gleaner)
Stones set to mark parking spots, for which payment will be ‘requested’ (courtesy of The Gleaner)

The Caribbean is different: regional theatre of the absurd (January 1-2, 2014)

People in the Caribbean tend to have a skewed view of the world and what is really going on. Here is a periodic digest of our trying to make the sun rise in the west and set in the east.

WI ODI captain caught ‘off guard‘, finds New Zealand team actions shocking as opposing team decides to compete; says “That’s not cricket!” Bravo, sir! 

Jamaican PM Portia Simspon-Miller adds to her nation’s puzzlement about her communication strategy when says to her citizens “I feel your pain. I go to the supermarket, I know what is happening to prices.” Sorry, Madame PM, many Jamaicans will think this is like saying you feel the pain of their child when they take them for injections. Politicians do not feel the pain of citizens by seeing happening to their people!

Jamaican female DJ says she just Saw red, now begs for forgiveness. Stung by public criticism for her raucous stage display a few days ago at Sting 30Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 1.46.06 PM, Lady Saw now says she was “provoked” and sees the errors of her ways in “demeaning” women, after her onstage jooking of Macka Diamond. Clearly, The Devil made her do it and she’s about to become a nun. Well, not quite. I do like that Macka Diamond sported a crucifix when on stage. Those are bullets in the belt, I guess, not bull- of another kind.

Art can’t beat life: Jamaican farce

I got a partial answer to my question about Jamaican satire: life’s too funny to need it acted out. Just a few random examples from recent weeks.

Just a few days ago, a clearly frustrated mayor of Savannah la Mar in western Jamaica, Bertel Moore, blurted out that police should now “shoot first then ask questions later” when dealing with suspected criminals. He’d reacted wildly to a fast growing problem of shootings and murders in his parish, Westmoreland. Jamaicans have not all lost their marbles, and many, including local police representatives quickly condemned his position. Jamaica already has an unenviable reputation for ‘extra judicial’ killings by the police. The Gleaner wrote a stinging editorial condemning the mayor. Jibes about the “wild West” soon shot out.

We had a prominent MP, Mr. WARmington, giving signature advice to environmentalists to “go to Hell” for their temerity In trying to urge that the environment be protected in considerations of where to locate a proposed logistics hub. Not warm, at all. Really, too charming, I’d have to say. The tranquil Goat Islands are not bringing out the best in people.

Ordinary people also have their moments of silliness everyday. We met a security guard at the hospital yesterday, who was so quick to flaunt her political colors–green for the Jamaica Labour Party, pointing to her coloured uniform badge. She had no time for our joking that we were former PNP prime minister, “Patterson, P.J.”; “Not my Prime Minister,” she boldly stated. Then she sang the praises of the current JLP (“Jamaica Loving Party”, she chanted) leader, Andrew Holness: “Andrew, all the way!”. She’ll do all she can to see he prevails in the coming battle for leadership, especially if she can vote as in other elections. She proudly declared that she’d voted five times at the last general election, dancing a gleeful little jig as she told us that. If she’s typical, it’s hard to understand how apparent low turnouts occur.

Not making light of the real tragedy, how do you not marvel at Kingston’s public bus company, Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC), when a second bus burst into flames in a matter of two weeks? We’d heard that the first one did not carry working extinguishers, and passengers would be well advised to travel with water, just in case. I liked it that an on looker had to tell the bus driver that the back of bus was ablaze: locals know the buses often belch out a lot of smoke, so it would’ve been hard for the driver to notice.

This during the same time when several high schools decided to discipline students for not following dress codes by sending them home, or for lateness by locking them out of school. I hope they didn’t have to take one of the JUTC buses. Talk about wanting to fire up the youths.

Police this week searched the jail cell of Vybz Kartel, a well-known dance hall artiste, and found it had ‘contraband’–and that’s not a backing group. Naturally, the banned items included cell phones 🙂 Really? But, also thumb drives and DVDs. Where are the good old thumb screws, cigarettes, files and pliers?

Why make things up, when life offers such rich material? We clearly don’t need sketches on TV or theatre when we have brilliant comedy surrounding us. Now that YouTube is rampant, it would be better for the government to give every citizen a smartphone and let them record these incidents for submission to the Jamaica Information Service (JIS) could then circulate them with an official seal of ‘MAD in Jamaica’ and circulate them to the world. Have to think of innovative ways to sell brand Jamaica.

Laughs, please

I’ve said it before: Jamaica needs some serious satire. That may be an oxymoron, but no matter. A Caribbean version of ‘Spitting Image’ has to happen soon. As a region, we love to joke around. If you read Wikipedia, satire is at the heart of our humour. The political cartoons in Jamaica are very good. Clovis is cruel.20130914-145556.jpgBut, we need to take on politicians and others in the public limelight with more vigour. The gloves have to come off and let them have it squarely in the teeth.

The last few weeks have provided tonnes of material. You need to tackle any politicians who tells the environmental lobby to “go to Hell”, as Clifford Everald Errol Warmington did over the Goat Islands. Better still, he’s uttered it before, when he resigned as an MP and took it to a CVM anchorman. (I should be careful: I read that he won a seat against my namesake!) The man is gold.

The PM, this week, nearly burst into flames, when she accused some critics of potential foreign investors of xenophobia.

20130914-151125.jpgWe have the not-quite-on-yet leadership contest in the opposition political party. Leader Holness is often depicted as a baby in a nappy. C’mon! Work it up! We’ve had the overworked chicken back and oxtail and rice bowl eating of Agriculture Minster, Roger Clarke, who then lost completely his sense of decorum as he decided to try to do a piggy back over a very fluffy female supporter of his party.

The comics who get most attention, seem to steer clear of public figures. Is there too much reverence? Maybe. I think all should be treated the same. If they provide the material, then wrap it and send it back with a ribbing. Our heroes and heroines need to just watch out. DJs and songsters are game too. Imagine if Vybz Karkel and Queen Ifrica had faced the mockery.

Don’t let foreign TV company steal a march on us and get our stars to good it up in New york or LA. Get Usain to ham up his own style. ‘The Beast’ is injured, so let him do some other work and take on him fellow athletes.

Any budding writers and actors out there who can take this on?

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