Age is more than a number–Redux: crime and can’t bother-ism

I wrote a few days ago on the topic of youth and their role as leaders, and stated ‘The young are often impatient, and don’t want to wait for their turn, rightly so, in some cases.’ But, I will admit gladly that I am not holding out hopes for youth to lead as some would wish. Why? I responded to a comment on the previous post that ‘It’s also more than a bit disturbing that youth are so much a part of the crime problem, and it’s costing us dearly, see Gleaner article. You may see that as a consequence of ‘impatience’; I don’t.’ I feel this is one of the telling weaknesses about current Jamaica and whether it will get youth to be its engine. So, let me look a little and briefly at that impatience, as demonstrated by things I read over the weekend.

The crutch of crime:

‘Scammers defiant! Five young involved in illegal activity say they will not stop’This headline greeted me in the Sunday Observer. Why wont they stop? Because it pays the youths (age 17-27) better than anything else and has allowed them to acquire immense wealth. To sample from the article, scamming finances a great lifestyle, with high-end cars, new and fancy homes, improved opportunities to finance own- and relatives’ education. With high youth unemployment, people are again acting rationally and taking the best risk-reward options. These people are not yet ready to lead others, except into a world of more crime.

I can’t be bothered-ism:

I will say that frankly I was shocked by the attitude of a young businessman, touted as one of Jamaica’s young luminaries. Over the weekend, I read some of his tweets. He has a high public profile, so none of this should seem like ‘telling tales out of school’. In 2006, he wrote on his website ‘I don’t usually find racism funny…’ (he then attached a YouTube video, which was racist, but made him laugh). On May 11, he wrote:

I had to deal with a racist air hostess flying to London last year. Interesting experience. 9:16 PM – 10 May 2014

I then asked if he’d reported it. I reproduce the rest of the conversation.

Representing: You are who you know you are

As I grew up I had to deal with several labels, and still do. I was born in Jamaica, but spent most of my life outside, mainly in England. I speak English with a flat British accent. In the eyes of many people who meet me that ‘makes’ me British. I usually get my hackles up straight away and retort “I’m Jamaican.”

Jamaicans know that the motto ‘Out of many, one people’ has true meaning, even though some of us may not like to deal with what that currently is. We know that colour is hardly what it’s about; neither is ethnic origin’ neither is gender. It’s really about your heart and your spirit. Jamaica has a lot of people who were not born there and embrace the country and its culture with fulsome love.

Children are often very good indicators of some basic truths. Parents will know that children ‘make friends’ easily; we also know that children love to belong–to someone or to something. Those of us who believe that children often stray if they do not have structure around them, tend to want our children close by (belonging to their family, say), or involved in clubs (belonging to other people and groups and organizations). We usually see the benefits of this early, but also know that the benefits can be long-lasting.

My daughter belongs to a swimming club in Jamaica; she joined soon after we arrived on the island last June. She started training with them and spent much of the summer ‘meeting new friends’. The club has two main training bases: one is about five minutes from our home and also across the street from a dear cousin of mine, who cooks to make eyes water; the other is at several sites in Kingston, each about 15-20 minutes drive from my daughter’s school. She chose to train with the multi-site group because it included her new friends; convenience was not in her considerations. I did not mind, because I also liked the group of kids and their parents. The two training groups blend when the club has meets, and they combine to be a real team.

Fast forward. The team is in Orlando, FL, to compete at a meet organized by a school in that area. The team has done this kind of thing before, and I imagine it was successful in many ways. This time, the team has reached out and included some swimmers from other clubs in Kingston. We’re all staying in a vacation resort complex, with rooms that are like little apartments, some adjoining. It’s all cozy and getting more so as we eat communal meals prepared by some of the parents. There’s nothing like having to wade through 20-30 people to get your food to make everyone friendly. The kids are bonding nicely and parents are getting to know each other better as we travel around and have to chaperone more than our own offspring. The competition started yesterday afternoon, for the older kids; the whole team gets into the water from this morning through Sunday afternoon. Wish us well.

But, that bonding is not my main focus. I was in a mall yesterday with the team and then at the poolside in the afternoon. My daughter–the ‘import’, let’s call her, was sporting a black flat bill cap with ‘JAMAICA’ on its front.


She had come to represent, and was doing so proudly. At the pool side, I noticed several of the kids wearing T-shirts that had some kind of Jamaica motif on them. As the races started and one of our team was in the water, one of the boys whom I’d thought was rather quiet jumped up and started clapping and yelling “Come on…We need to be really Jamaican here!” Several of the children jumped up and started to run along the side of the pool yelling too: “Go! Go!” The other spectators did not seem to be bothered by this. The children had done what they one had suggested: they showed who they are and from where they’d come. No boasting, just pride and pleasure.

Sport, especially at the higher levels, is really about getting to know yourself. You have to examine your ego, your strengths, your weakness; knowing how to control your emotions, your demeanour; balancing your life’s activities, especially the academics and the sporting. Many children come up short because they have physical skills but never master the emotional side of being a good athlete: they get extremely nervous when competing and cannot control those nerves well enough to perform at their best, so their solid training doesn’t translate into great performances. That can be a downward spiral, as poor performances leads to lack of confidence, which leads to more poor performance, etc., and can end with a child quitting. My karate coach once said he’d been told that a black belt was just a white belt (beginner) who never gave up. Great athletes develop way of coping that mean they never give up, sometimes even after all has been lost: “There’s no way that I lost that!”

Some child athletes get their strength and coping skills from their parents or coaches or both; some don’t get anything positive from either or both. They may get negatives from one and positives from another. It’s a complex chemistry. However, my experience is that positive parents tend to gravitate towards positive coaches or coaching, and the blend tends to be happy and accommodating and supportive OF THE ATHLETE, not the adults. I wont go into the vicarious living of adults through their children 🙂

When I watch, in my role as parent, I have a thin line to avoid crossing because I am also a coach, though not necessarily in this sport or of these children. I try to stay in my place. But, I am always on the look out for the signs that the emotional side of an athlete is fraying on ‘game day’. We all have nervousness; I was told it showed we cared. We have to harness it, though. Some have to throw up or suffer diarrhea, or break out in hives, or sweat profusely, or chatter incessantly. There are many signs. Some of the signs are well-known to the athlete and their peers; some are well-known to the parents and coaches; some are hidden. Some like to pretend: they fake fear of opponents as a way of putting themselves as underdogs and then doing well and seeming like ‘giant killers’–it’s an ego booster. Some like to brag: usually, they ‘can walk the walk and talk the talk’; they are winners par excellence. Some fear losing so badly that it can cripple them or they channel that into excelling (Nadal is one of the best modern examples). Some have to ‘get out of themselves’, doing seemingly goofy things and being a little extrovert–it’s diversion. Whatever, it is, it’s there.

Sometimes, however, the best way is to ‘drape yourself in the flag’, including showing your national colours however you can.

You are who you know you are
You are who you know you are

I’ve noticed that when given a chance, athletes will love to represent who they feel their nation is. “We are the best!” “Let’s show those [fill the gap with a nation] what we can do!” It seems normal, really, that you should try to draw strength from a collective, and often the best and biggest is your country. It need not be done with brashness, as is often the case now in international competitions. But, it is done. Humming your national anthem, if it is not played. Acting ‘like’ whatever your country represents. In this case, I was seeing lots of ‘let’s be Jamaican’. All pride, no shame. It was really inspiring. It was maybe too subtle to be offensive, even though it was noticeable. We are a small group set amongst other teams. Dare I say, once again, “We likkle but we tallawah!”






Bouncing on a springboard

I’m always fascinated what happens when I travel. Do the problems in my home country follow me, or do I become immersed in the issues of the place to where I’ve travelled? My home is on my back. Dr. Peter Phillips and his proposed bank tax is being discussed at the poolside while my daughter has early morning swim practice. The virtues of patois and its richness are giving myself and the other fathers and brothers plenty to chew on. We hope to chew on more when we see our kids finish in the pool, and enjoy what some of the mothers are preparing.

One of the coaches took to his room last night some cinnamon buns from the restaurant where we had a pizza buffet dinner; he had study to do and needed his extra food. This morning, I asked if he’d eaten the buns for breakfast. He looked at me as if I was mad. I understood. “You wan’ hol’ a plate o’ salt mackerel an’ bwoil banana,” He nodded. We travel and need our place holders in life to keep us together. Food is one of those. People who have not travelled may not understand how important ‘home cooking’ is. That’s why international teams travel with their kitchen staff; that also avoids some of the nasty tricks that unscrupulous hosts can try. Been there, suffered that.

Why am I in Orlando? It’s for a school swim meet. Some of our club’s swimmers are in Aruba, for the Carifta 2014 games, and doing very well. Their team mates who did not make the national team either because their performances are not yet up to standard, or are too young, still have to ‘work on their game’. I’ve written before about the value of sport for youth development. When you see a group of children working hard to better themselves, with good guidance and care from adults and each other, you have to wonder how social problems persist. But, some children do not get that guidance and care–simple.

So far, America’s problems have not featured in my thoughts. I have not watched any TV and not seen a local paper. I am still following the Budget discussions in Jamaica. Although, I did not hear Andrew Holness give his presentation yesterday, I followed it on Twitter and through his postings there and on Facebook. Social media are getting a good work out this week as a place for Jamaicans to have their big discussions. I have a view that better governance will come from this, once we get over the challenge of some public servants resisting demands for better information and more open discourse on subjects. We also see that the country has many voices that want to be heard and also people with heads that can think their way through issues, without immediately reverting to the tired and tiring jabs that come from partisan politics.


One of our group had problems with US Immigration at the airport: he’d lost his passport years ago and since that keeps featuring in the US’s security screening processes. He had to go through a four-hour wait in ‘secondary inspection’ yesterday afternoon–sounds like the meat packing business, and he says they made people feel like livestock. So our on-time arrival turned into a very late departure from the airport. By the time we got to our lodgings it was night, and by the time we checked in and ate a wonderful (I’m being ironic here, because we had eaten really wonderful food from Island Grill before we left) pizza buffet, it was very late. A quick trip to a dollar store for essentials like water, eggs, toothpaste, body wash, sunglasses that were marked ‘Made in China’, waffles and syrup, had all the kids excited

. We then played ‘chicken’ crossing the busy six-lane highway. “Dis is not Jumayka. Dem will run you down!” one boy said as he traipsed across the road and car headlights closed in. The children got to bed around 11pm, and some in my room did not get to sleep till way after midnight. Now, they are getting a refreshing work out, with a 7.30am start. Not ideal. But, the meet starts at 5pm today, and they need to be prepared. The team’s head coach told the children last night that when they returned to Jamaica and were met at the airport by reporters that they ought to be able to say proudly what they had done, rather than come with a string of excuses about a poor performance.

The day will have some good downtime for us all after breakfast. I suspect that many will to hit the malls; one is just across a busy highway from our hotel. I would like to play a little golf, and I understand that a course is just 10 minutes walk away.

How ironic. We’re listening to piped music at the pool side…and it’s reggae, and mento. Gwendolyn, pass the smelling salts! But, why should surprised when on our way from the airport I saw a bill board advertising Red Stripe.

Red Stripe billboard in Orlando, FL
Red Stripe billboard in Orlando, FL

Jamaica to the world!

Swimming upstream

I don’t know if Jamaicans are good at looking at themselves and their country in a mirror, and if they can, whether they see what others can see.

A few evenings ago, a friend was collecting her daughter from our house, when she regaled us with a tale. She prefaced the story with the remark that “No one, especially a woman, would choose to use a public bathroom in Jamaica.” We all understood. However, she told of an incident where she had entered a stall and was so shocked by what she found that she called her husband to tell him: “There’s toilet paper!” The point was well made.

Jamaica is not one of the world’s desperately poor countries, but it’s a country that falls short of many things that could be fixed with more money, and certainly from money better spent. On a global level, we are known for poor sanitation. Many people, living in makeshift housing, have few or no installed sanitary facilities; instead, they use bushes and dumps to ‘dispose of human waste’. That situation persists as you move around the country, and public facilities are scarce. We can see this–not a pretty sight–on many a trip around Jamaica: man posing against wall, being the most familiar sighting. It’s just a fact of life here.

At a worse, institutional level, we have the desperate situation of schools that have only pit latrines: over a 100 primary and all-age schools still have pit latrines, for whose replacement the ministry is working with Food for the Poor. Sixty of these should be completed during the next fiscal year; the rest during the 2015/6 year.

But, bad though such situations are for school children, less bad, but not good situations persist elsewhere–under our nose, so to speak.

What is missing?

My daughter trains at the National Aquatic Centre each week, as do hundreds of other children. She uses the bathrooms to change most weeks. I’ve never been into the ladies room but I have seen the men’s. It’s not the worst I have seen, but it is far from the best or prettiest. Broken and dirty sinks. Toilet facilities often without paper. No soap for hand washing. No paper or towels to dry hands. Broken window shutters.

I would be reluctant to use the facilities myself, and wonder what parents think when they send their children there. Many may be ignorant because the use is during school time or children are dropped off.

There is running water, but…

We don’t need to compare our situation to that in, say, the US or UK or Canada–places with which many will be familiar. But, it’s clear that this is woeful.

The Centre was closed temporarily in mid-February, by the Ministry of Health. The Amateur Swimming Association of Jamaica (ASAJ) had been trying to keep the pool operational even as they switch out filters which had been in place since 1962. But, construction problems emerged as the brand new filtration systems were being installed. The diving pool was also closed last summer by the health ministry due to cracks in its base.

Swim training: the happy side; March 13, 2014, 4.30pm

The Centre was closed for several weeks from late 2012 for renovations ahead of the 2013 Carifta Swimming Championships in March-April.

The work included complete resurfacing of the pool floor, the installation of new touch pads and a new scoreboard, as well as a comprehensive beautification programme. The objective: ensure that the country can boast a truly first-class swimming facility. The work was set to cost at least J$5 million. The new scoreboard cost about J$1.4 million, while the touch pads–used for electronic timing and placing– set back the association J$2.5 million. Sadly, ‘truly first-class’ it isn’t. I attended those Games and things were not pretty then. Judging from experiences over past months, uglier things are happening as the pads and scoreboard give problems. The starting blocks are unsafe or unstable.

Most of this is away from the public gaze. Sadly, we don’t host enough international meets or have visiting teams come to train for the groans and howls to be louder. Maybe, we need a MRSA infection scare. Wish it, not.

Doing things is one of the country’s biggest problems. Fixing things, by extension, is also a major problem. Fixing things well?

Happy children, learning to swim, or trying to perfect their strokes and turns hide a sorry state.

The Ministry of Youth & Culture is the central government body primarily responsible for the development and welfare of Jamaica’s youth. In keeping with many a government agency, it boasts fine intentions: ‘All the initiatives of the ministry serve to protect and enhance the lives of young people and assist them in becoming contributing members of society.’ All? Protect? Enhance? Can I sue for false advertising?

We are great despite, not because.