Is Andrew Holness Jamaica’s Everyman?

Disclaimer: I have never met, personally interacted with or otherwise been affiliated with anyone named or mentioned in this post. I know them only through the media. All photos, unless otherwise stated, are the property of the candidate depicted.

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Hon. Andrew Holness enjoying a jelly coconut

It is something that young Jamaicans are told to be ashamed of, but today I admit that for most of my existence, I have been indifferent to the results of our elections. I have strongly regarded all politicians as evil, and wouldn’t dare choose even the lesser of them. This year I feel differently. It might be the fact that I have spent most of the time between elections as an outside observer from Uruguay which had a president who was described as the poorest in the world, and from my adopted home in the United States, where politicians vying for a chance to contest the presidency are currently being scrutinized from all angles.

My already unusual interest in the Jamaican elections was heightened on the 11th of February, a mere two weeks before the upcoming elections, when I read that the PNP had, in an effort to ensure the integrity of the electoral process, opted out of the debates. They did so pending their demand for a change in format be met by the Debates Commission and that the leader of the opposing JLP, Hon. Andrew Holness, fulfill their requirements of detailing his finances, specifically how he afforded his house, as well as apologize for declaring murders at his recent campaign as “acts of terror”. This demand was followed by a, now recanted, article that said the police were investigating Mr. Holness and the circulation of messages claiming his wife, Juliet, was related to a convicted money launderer, this invited a statement from Mrs. Holness’ parents in an effort to protect their reputation.

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Mr. Holness watching a football game in his constituency

The PNP, a party seemingly confident that their leadership has placed Jamaica in a favorable position with international experts – clearly dismissive of what Jamaicans think, is denying the only people to whom they have constitutional responsibility our right to dialogue with them in the form of a debate.

The pre-election mood, consequently, shifted from an argument surrounding the general issues of education, crime, the economy and healthcare to a yet to be substantiated battle over the cost of the opposition leader’s ‘castle’. The National Integrity Commission on Monday encouraged Holness to answer the PNP’s questions, while noting that the commission’s reports for the years 2010 to 2014 were in the custody of the Office of the Prime Minister, who had failed to table them in parliament before the current recess. I am still unsure of the content of these reports as they have never been made public but the PNP, after making their demands, admitted that the issue could have been brought to parliament but it was somehow suddenly more urgent than it was the week before when parliament was still in session.

Mr. Holness’ Response

In a disclosure unprecedented among the political class, Mr. Holness admitted to having a trust/company set up in St. Lucia for the purpose of estate planning and tax avoidance. On that same day, an officer of the PNP also came forward to say members of his party had similar companies in offshore tax havens1 . I am disappointed in both the ruling party and the opposition for their gall in normalizing the fact that they are shielding themselves from a system of taxation created by them, while dishing out austerity measures and ‘bitter medicine’ to the populace.

The other aspects of Holness’ statement2, though, apart from the high dollar figures, illustrated him as having the same hopes and aspirations as the Jamaican everyman. I saw myself in the Mr. Holness who was able to enter the political class from relatively humble beginnings – hailing from a less-than-glamorous community of our old capital, Spanish Town. Mr. Holness showed me, by revealing that he formed a company in which his boys are also stakeholders – naming it after them both, that he is a man who thinks of his children at every step of the way. He is doing his best to ensure their future is bright regardless of his past, just like my mother had done for me, despite the failure of my father. The everyday Jamaican parent may not have access to the resources that Mr. Holness’ family does, but they can relate to wanting the best for their children.

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Jamaica Gleaner: The Prime Minister “looking on with delight” as seventy-one-year-old Annie Henderson is the first of the Rose Town residents to get a taste of the running water as she washes her face at a stand pipe put in on Georges Street.

Mr. Holness, very ironically, succeeded in portraying himself as a frugal man with big dreams and the industriousness to achieve them. The PNP’s suspicions were that the value of his home was close to $200 million, yet he declared to have built it with only $52 million. He has a mortgage, like most Jamaican homeowners, he ‘trusted’ materials using suppliers’ credit and provided some of the funds from (I assume) hard-earned savings. He declared that he is still building block by block, little by little even after four years; this is a clear indication that he might have cash flow problems like many Jamaicans who have also had to slow or halt construction of their homes.

What might also have cemented Holness’ place among the masses was the response of a certain woman known to be of a privileged background who has two sisters (PNP) in the race for parliamentary positions. She implied that Holness was ungrateful in ‘running against’ the family that helped to build his castle (his lawyer stated that he had invested with a company in which relatives of the said privileged woman are principals). There was heavy backlash on Facebook, one commenter likening Andrew Holness to the late upstart George Siebel who built Devon House. The company has since distanced itself from her remarks but the damage to both the institution’s reputation and the PNP’s perception is indelible.

Mr. Holness’ attorney sent a letter to Peter Phillips who spearheaded the questioning. Instead of demanding monetary damages as his counterpart had done3, in a show of philanthropy4, Andrew requested that an agreed sum be donated to a children’s charity of his choosing, reinforcing his love for Jamaica’s youth. The PNP’s smear campaign had, by now, clearly backfired.

Seven days later – just a week before we are scheduled to head to the polls, the PNP has finally declared that the debates are an impossibility, citing unsatisfactory responses and a lack of apology from Mr. Holness.

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Boiled corn is a staple of the Jamaican gathering


However entertaining this debacle might have been, we cannot afford for a situation of pure chicanery to dominate another election. Jamaica deserves stringent rules and timelines for electoral events: fixed election dates, mandatory debates with fixed dates and the allowance of empty chairs, pre-scheduled campaign events, deadlines for the release of manifestos and penalties for politicians who seek to resolve their conflicts in the media, overlooking the important mediatory role of the Political Ombudsman.

Even more importantly, comprehensive financial reports and background checks on all sitting members of state and local government should be made available through the Access to Information Act. A public declaration like the one Andrew was forced to make on Monday should only be necessary in the case of a suspected discrepancy in what had been submitted to the Integrity Commission. If the media, ergo the people, have access to these documents we have the opportunity to research and the freedom to create our own concerns and are not left to rely on politicians soundbites and their lawyers’ ultimatums to form the basis of our ‘news’ reports.

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The Prime Minister sitting with and reading to children

Regrettably, this election will not be decided by how convinced the people are of one party’s capability and the other’s lack thereof. There has been very little room for comparison of the parties’ plans to lead the country forward. The committed party supporters will vote as they always have and the independent voters will decide whether Andrew Holness’ presence and recent openness is more attractive and compelling than Portia Simpson-Miller’s sustained absence is repugnant. Thursday, February 25 will determine whether the endearing, poor-loving and Obama-kissing Prime Minister still has her charm or whether the Clarks-wearing, cow skin soup-drinking Opposition leader has succeeded in painting himself as Jamaica’s everyman.

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The Opposition Leader and his wife accepting pumpkins

  1. I am not sure why they disclosed this, Andrew could have remained the only bad guy but they did the JLP a favor here []
  2. along with several videotaped responses by himself and a radio interview with his lawyer []
  3. yes, there are a lot of letters floating around []
  4. or maybe just a “poor and boasy” move []
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Educational Equality: taking the First Step on a Long Journey

Level(er) Playing Field (I really hate this cliché)

Education Minister, Ronnie Thwaites, isn’t my favorite politician, actually he was pretty close to becoming my least favorite1 until he made the bold move of deciding to place students in high schools closer to their homes. While the primary reason he gave – students gathering at bus parks – is ridiculous, I completely support this change as not necessarily sending children to the closest school, but placing them within a certain radius of their homes is a good first step in achieving educational equality. 

Most Jamaicans who are opposed to such a move argue that students who work hard deserve to be placed in a ‘good’ school, which ignores the fact that the ‘good’ schools are better only because they are presented with the cream of the crop, and not because of anything else. The ‘bad’ schools are terrible because they receive the students with the worst scores. Of course, there are other factors such as physical and human resources that influence the quality of the school experience but, because you can’t plant corn and expect peas fi grow, the basic result remains the same.

It disgusts me to see schools labelled as good or bad when each does not receive a fair mix of students. Are we are so grounded in our elitist classism that the thought of equality, even in the basic right of education, unnerves us? Why are we so uncomfortable with the idea of our children going to school with their neighbors? Let us reserve judgment for 5 or 10 years down the line when each school receives a reasonably similar mix, when some of the greats will have fallen and many nontraditional schools will have drastically improved and no student will have to hang his head in shame, or remove his school tie on the streets to avoid unfair judgment.

Hellishly Long Journeys

I used to take a two hour journey to Kingston each day for work and many students, passing dozens of schools long the way, shared the commute with me. Only, they were not allowed to sit for the duration of the trip unless they had paid the full adult fare, neither were they allowed on the smaller buses; they had to stand and wait until a large bus was at its seated capacity then beg for standing room on a 90-minute bus ride, which they would get only if a full-fare-paying adult didn’t get there before the bus left.

The stress of waking early enough to catch a bus, allocating reserve time in case there is no room for you on it and being thrown about by undisciplined drivers for such a long journey would severely limit any child’s brain function, then there’s the financial burden on the parents which often translates into an unhappy child2 . Before you refer me to any poignantly moving photos of the journeys children in remote parts of the world take to school on a daily basis, remind yourselves that they are taking these journeys to get to the closest school, any school and not just one that satisfies their parents’ need to make them feel better than their neighbors. They are simply satisfied to be getting an education and no child is better off after a four hour commute, regardless of how superior it makes him/her or his/her parents feel.

In Conclusion

It is full time that Jamaica takes education seriously enough to understand that applying classism and elitism to learning won’t translate into a better society. Geographic placement is a good first step in ensuring fair opportunities for all children and until schools are fed from the same stock, we don’t have the right to pit them against each other. Jamaica needs to hold all our schools by the same standard and provide them with equal physical, financial and human resources, feed them an academically diverse cohort each year, then we can talk about paying teachers and ranking schools based on performance.

  1. His ministry banned Charlie Charlie, and he thinks his religion can save Jamaica: []
  2. Students in Kingston are protected by the flat fare they pay on the public bus system but there is no such benefit for the children who live outside of the corporate area []
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Don’t be Caught Dead in a Jamaican Public Hospital : A Rant

I read a few days ago of Mr. Jason Forbes who died on the floor of the waiting area at the Spanish Town Hospital in Jamaica. The next day I read the response of the president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association. I was saddened to read of the man’s death but the caustic response of the highly esteemed Dr. Alfred Dawes angered me to the core. According to The Jamaica Observer Dawes said,

“… If you’re going to blame anybody, don’t just single out doctors and blame doctors, blame the infrastructure, blame the lack of adequate staffing, and blame the patients who are crowding up the emergency room unnecessarily.”

What an asshole. I probably would have sympathized with his statement had he not laid the blame on me – a poor, non-politician, non-elite  Jamaican who relies on the public hospital system – for Forbes’ death. What. An. Asshole.

Throughout the article Dr. Dawes explained why his colleagues are not culpable in the situation but never once expressed an ounce of remorse for the death of Jason Forbes. I am not sure what events have calibrated his moral compass but he seems quite callous to sickness and death in the Jamaican poor, which is not something desirable in a public health servant. He is defending the healthcare workers who claim to be unable to do their job because of, among other things, ‘the patients’, but if you are unable to do your job do not collect the paycheck. You have no compassion or remorse for the condition the poor Jamaicans who have no choice but to pay taxes and those of you who have private practice might be applying intense TLC to the wealthy who can afford you but are known to evade the taxman. Although we are lacking, Jamaica is better off than many developing countries as far as healthcare infrastructure goes, we are most deficient in the elements of love for each other and respect for the humanity of the poor.

When I tell people of my ordeals in the emergency room and public health clinics, which Dr. Dawes presents as an alternative to a hospital, they express the belief that I am not from the segment of society that should rely on the hospital for care but I am, we all are unless we can afford to be airlifted elsewhere. If I fall seriously ill at my home in rural Jamaica, the nearest hospital is only a 10 minute drive from me but I most likely will not be able to drive during an emergency health scare and it turns out I cannot call an ambulance either because there is no such service in my area. My primary care doctor would have been asleep in his Kingston home and being not a doctor myself, I would need some answers on whether I am gonna die or not. So I would have someone drive me to the ER. And I would wait, had I been Jason Forbes I would die. Better case scenario – I would be refused care for wearing too-short sleeves and die at home or on the way there.

I went to the public hospital in my rural Jamaican town on two occasions, on the first time I was seen by a second doctor after five hours and was injected with a very strong painkiller and told to return to the adjacent clinic at 5am. The second time I suffered with severe lower abdominal pain which the doctors seemed to suspect was some form of kidney problem so they decided to sign me up for an ultrasound, which they encouraged me to do at a very specific imaging centre since it was an emergency and not wait three months to do it at the hospital where it would be free of charge. They injected me with a painkiller that was contraindicated for kidney problems and sent me on my way to do a $12,000 ultrasound. I returned with the results of the ultrasound which the doctor read and decided was inconclusive so he wrote me up another form to do a test elsewhere that would help him better determine what was wrong with me. I didn’t do it. My intuition said that this guy doesn’t give a fuck about my kidneys if he would really let me wait three months for a conclusive exam if I couldn’t afford to go to his friend’s private facility in Portmore so I stocked up on painkillers and proceeded with my upcoming trip to the USA where I saw a doctor who prescribed the same ultrasound and actually came to a conclusion. I was medicated and the problem was soon under control. By the way, that first time I went to the hospital and was told to return to the clinic the following day, I did indeed arrive at 5am but I didn’t leave until 4pm.

During the ongoing Chikungunya outbreak, my mother waited late one night with my brother, who had fainted (and possibly hit his head), at the hospital for several hours; when the waiting became unbearable for him she asked a nurse if there was a cafe where she could get him some tea and the nurse responded, “You see anything like that yahso?1”. It would take far less effort to say “No, sorry” but our healthcare workers are, apparently, well-trained assholes. They do not understand that sick people tend to seek care and they would not subject themselves to this torture by “crowding up the emergency room unnecessarily”, which I am sure must be so much worse with the Chikungunya outbreak, unless they have no viable alternatives. Dr. Dawes, if patients are preventing you and your colleagues from doing your job, I think it would be appropriate for all of you to not collect pay from the public purse for work that you cannot do. It might not be easy but it is very simple.

  1. English: Do you see any signs to suggest we have such a facility here? []
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How I Managed to be Going to Manaus for #Brazil2014

In July 2012 while volunteering at the 19th International AIDS Conference, I met an activist from Cameroon who had a lot to share about his experience volunteering for South Africa 2010; I was intrigued and immediately set up a google alert to be notified when applications opened for Brazil 2014. The wait wasn’t long and I put in my bid two months later; as soon as the announcement was made. The same application was used for the Confederations Cup and the World Cup but I elected not to participate in the training for Confederations Cup and as a result I was not considered for that event.

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Brazuca: the official ball of Brazil 2014

The next step was initial online training – an overview of FIFA and the World Cup, including information on the venues and host cities as well as the basics of volunteering. There was also an optional training element that dealt with “themes of social legacy” such as diversity, ethics, conflict resolution, leadership and problem solving. I did not make it through most of these elective courses as they were only offered in Portuguese. The online training and evaluation also included an assessment of language skills; I completed an online test of both my English and Spanish proficiency. This helped the organizing committee to better allocate volunteers to an area of work.

After the training was complete, it was time to schedule my Skype interview. After carefully analyzing my calendar for the next month, I picked a date thirty days away. I had completely forgotten about the interview and was not physically prepared. I answered the call with video not knowing who was on the line, don’t ever do this! When I heard the Brazilian accent, I immediately realized this was the interview. My hair was in its most natural form and my not-quite-an-Afro tuft was still in its fresh-off-the-pillow state but I couldn’t just cut the video off midstream so I smiled and carried on. It turned out to be a great interview, more like a conversation about my skills- especially my interpersonal skills- and my interest in Brazil and the tournament. The interviewer didn’t care about my hair, thankfully.

After successfully completing the interview, I indicated my availability and was soon after presented with an offer to be a Media Volunteer in Manaus. I was happy to receive my first choice of assignment in the city I most desired to visit and immediately accepted. Jamaicans still require a visa to enter Brazil for any reason so the last step of my journey was applying for one1 , which I did as soon as I received the accreditation letter from the World Cup’s organizing committee. The US$20 fee was waived, since I am a volunteer, and the visa took around five business days to process.

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I will be working at Arena da Amazônia which will host four matches in the group stage

So there you have it – I did not need to conduct a seance or join a secret society in order to participate in the World Cup. Most major events, even not-so-major ones, will rely on volunteers to ensure a successful, safe and exciting experience while maximizing the involvement of the local and global community.

I will be flying to Manaus next week and I expect to have a whale of a time, eat feijoada and meet some amazing people. Yes, I’ll keep you posted.

Walk good,


P.S. Just a heads up, the Olympics will be held in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and they will start accepting applications for volunteers on the 28th of August, 2014.

  1. i visited Brazil in December but the visas are only valid for three months. Bummer. []
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The Pre-Date: Safeguarding Jamaican Men’s Pockets Against Uncertain Pum-Pum since 2013

Dating is a form of courtship consisting of social activities done by two people with the aim of each assessing the other’s suitability as a partner in an intimate relationship or as a spouse. While the term has several meanings, it usually refers to the act of meeting and engaging in some mutually agreed upon social activity in public, together, as a couple. -WikiPedia (at time of publication)

As defined above, there is no dating scene in Jamaica, especially not among Jamaicans. In fact, there is hardly a social venue or event that is not dominated by cliques and this makes it very hard for us to interact with persons from different backgrounds and circles. When individuals do meet and find some romantic interest, it does not usually progress in a manner to facilitate

Jamaicans go out together as couples, usually when their relationship is cemented. Being seen at a movie or dinner with someone implies that you and he/she are an item. To add insult to injury, the ideas presented by my tweeps, earlier this year, regarding ‘dating’ persons you may have met online or only briefly before suggest that a sort of pre-date of meet up is necessary before undertaking activities that will require spending. I didn’t want to believe it either but here are the tweets…

What’s wrong with being high-chested? You can afford it or you cannot.

I was somehow led to believe that that was the point of a date, but clearly I am doing it wrong!

Ah, Twitter; lovely Twitter.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Response


Article contributed by Georgia (@CindysDaughter). The opinions expressed herein may not be those of Karee, the author of Negril Stories.

Last week, I was sitting in a little country restaurant with a few colleagues.  Our police force, their tactics and  “police brutality” came up.  As is often the case when the topic of the JCF comes up, there was soon a loud and rousing argument. This time it was centered on the following incident…

One Sunday, a young man, let’s call him Sam, set out on the road in his vehicle. Sam was travelling alone. While driving along, some policemen drove up behind Sam. They beckoned to him to stop his vehicle. Sam however sped up and sped away. The policemen chased after him. Eventually, Sam’s car overturned.

Sam climbed from the overturned vehicle and ran down an embankment, the police in hot pursuit. The policemen soon started firing at him. In total, six shots were fired at Sam. This story is starting to sound familiar, I know. We after all read the papers and watch the nightly news. Thankfully, the ending is not the usual.  None of the shots hit Sam. But they came close enough for him to figure out that he better stop before one did.  He was cornered and arrested.  Sam was brought to the station and eventually charged for operating a robot taxi.

Yes. That is why Sam was chased and shot after.  The police suspected him of “running a robot taxi”.

Now all of us at the table concluded that what Sam did was not very smart. In fact, we all agreed on one thing, Sam was lucky to even be alive. We nervously joked that this could have ended with the too familiar report on the nightly news:

“The police were today engaged in a running gun battle by two gun men who were travelling in a stolen vehicle.  The police attempted to intercept the vehicle, whereupon the men alighted from the vehicle and fired several shots at the police. The police returned the fire and the men escaped into nearby bushes, where one was later found suffering from gunshot wounds. He was later pronounced dead at hospital. A gun was recovered from the scene.”

It is every kind of sad that even a child could probably have narrated that “police report”. How many times have we narrated such a story in jest? The line “escaped into nearby bushes” is as Jamaican as jerk pork ackee and saltfish.

Interestingly, while most of us at the table reacted to the story with some amount of cynicism and a certain world weariness, the lone policeman at the table was visibly incensed at the action of the police. According to him, the JCF’s use of force policy is clear; policemen are only supposed to shoot at a suspect in defence of life. In this case, there are no allegations  that the policemen or any member of the public were ever in fear for their life. There are no allegations that there was any fear that Sam had a weapon. There are no allegations that Sam was suspected of being involved in any serious crime. The allegations are that Sam was suspected of operating a “robot taxi”. This alleged “robot taxi” was overturned and sitting there in the road. The police could have seized it. Instead they chose to shoot, six times, at a fleeing person.

Sam’s Story:

The Member of Parliament for the community where Sam is from was also at the table. He had spoken to Sam after the incident. He said he was surprised when he heard about what had happened because Sam is not known to anyone in the community as a “troublemaker”. The story struck him as so strange that he had sought out Sam to find out exactly what had transpired. This was Sam’s account…

Sam is from a “rough community”. The type of neighbourhood with lots of crime.  Many of the “youths/yutes” in the area are involved in illegal activities. Young men just like Sam. Sam recounted that often times these youths are taken from the community by “cowboy police” and executed when the police become fed up with their antics. According to Sam, when the police flagged him down he was scared they would judge him wrongly because of his community and the actions of some of the other young men there.  He said he feared he would be executed too because “him a nuh nobody pickney”. He said he was scared his fate would be the same as some of the other young men from the community, some guilty of various crimes, others only guilty of being poor, black and from a “bad area”. Sam said instinct and adrenaline took over. He ran. Ran by car and then by foot. When the bullets started coming he figured he was dead anyway and stopped.

I don’t know Sam. I cannot vouch for Sam’s character. I cannot say if Sam’s reason for running from the police is factual. Only Sam really knows his own story.  But I’ve heard stories like Sam’s before. I’ve heard stories like Sam’s from grieving mothers, girlfriends, aunts, community members wailing on the evening news. Protesting the slain one’s innocence. Disputing the police’s account of the incident. Claiming that there was no shoot out and that the dead person(s) was executed by the police in cold blood. We sit and watch this unfold on our television sets ever so often.

Let’s not pretend we don’t often roll our eyes and comment: “everybody dead dem come out come block road and seh him was ah angel”.

We would probably have said the same for Sam, if one of those six shots had hit their target. He came very close to being a statistic, a reason for a roadblock, a news report.

I’m glad Sam’s story didn’t end up on the nightly news. I’m glad news cameras weren’t thrust into the face of Sam’s family. I’m glad Sam survived.

Copyright© 2013 All Rights Reserved

Note from Karee: Jamaican Bloggers will join forces in tackling police brutality on the first Jamaica Blog Day, May 23, 2013. This date was chosen because the state of emergency that preceded the advance into Tivoli Gardens was announced on Sunday, May 23, 2010 by then-Prime Minister Bruce Golding, a week after announcing that the Jamaican Government was taking action on the months-old extradition request for Christopher Coke. Please follow @JaBlogDay for further updates.

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Do you know what your meat is?

Article contributed by A.L (@AOneGong). The opinions expressed herein may not be those of Karee, the author of Negril Stories.

I love a beautifully orchestrated entrée of beef or chicken, so willingly have I accepted my calling as an omnivore; I salivate at the thought of sushi and I gladly entertain the occasional indulgence in oysters fresh from the sea. While not pretending to be a full blown foodie I will unabashedly endorse indulging in a good meal. I’ve always been aware, however, of the myriad number of additives present in food along with the fat calories I’ve learned to dread like the plague – if not avoid.

I’m aware of the food industry’s almost maddening reliance on preservatives ranging from nitrites to benzoic acid by the food industry, the pervasive utilization of salt, fructose corn syrup in sodas and fruit drinks, the ubiquitous presence of artificial sweetners like Acesulfame and Aspartame in many diet foods; but a few months ago I asked myself: Do you really know where the meat you eat comes from?alblg1 Do you know what your meat is?

This question became even more pertinent in March 2012 when ABC News reported on the use of ‘pink slime’ or ‘lean finely textured beef’ as a ‘meat filler’ in the USA. In essence, this product consists of lean beef carcass trimmings (including bits of cartilage and other connective tissues), not bad as it’s still technically meat. However, the treatment of this material with a heating process that liquefies the fat to enable the removal of any lean beef from the mass, and the subjection of this ‘lean beef’ to gaseous ammonia or citric acid to kill any bacteria which is (invariably) present is frightening. This ‘product’ has found its way into ground beef burgers which even if they contain up to 15% of ‘pink slime’ can be legally labelled 100% beef in the USA. But don’t think meat fillers are unique to beef, it has found useful acceptance in chicken processing as well. Yummy!

More recently there was the ‘horse meat’ scandal in Ireland and Britain, where if you’re unaware, large amounts of processed ‘beef’ products were found to include not just horse DNA, but pig DNA! There was one product tested which was 100% horse meat and more than 75% of the samples taken had ‘oink’ DNA mixed into the ‘meat’. While horse meat is culturally accepted in many countries from Europe to South America to Asia and provides a good source of protein their modern consumption is largely frowned upon. It is notable that Argentina and Brazil which form major sources of corned beef to the Jamaican market are significant horse meat producers. These details I’m sure have many vegans doing Reggae tinged I-told-you-so song and dance.

You may argue that these incidents are firmly based abroad and that in Jamaica we ‘know’ where our meat comes from…but do you really know what goes into making that chicken from the drive-thru you’ll wolf down for lunch, the succulent stewed fish you had for breakfast or the huge baked breast that’s being thought of for dinner? Yes, Jamaicans do eat a lot of chicken.

Well, the processing of chickens is just that-processing. It begins with the harvesting of chicks which are then shuttled as cargo to various growing houses in which they will be allotted 49 days to eat their way to an individual average slaughter weight of about 4.5 pounds. This dramatic increase in weight over this short period is targeted at the breasts and legs which though not accomplished through the use of hormones is achieved by selective breeding based upon growth rates and feed conversion. In these chickens the rapid growth rate results in flesh that grows faster than the bones; these bones may be so underdeveloped they struggle under the weight of these super-sized chickens. The simple act of walking to the feed/water station sees them struggling through blistered breasts and having to waddle through hundreds of pecking neighbours; and their own faeces. There is little wonder many of these birds are unhealthy and provide meat teaming with E.coli and other bacteria.

alblg2 Do you know what your meat is?These chicken breasts and thighs which consumers seem to desire are so huge and flavourless you might as well chow down on the waxed cardboard in which they are shipped. But fear not, this hunk of meat is often rendered delectable with the injection or addition of texturizers, stabilizers, thickeners, citric acid, the ever present corn syrup, monosodium glutamate, good ol’ salt and phosphates among many other chemicals lovingly added in copious amounts. In short the food industry would have you believe that your fried chicken or the mystery-meat-chicken-nugget is chock full of wholesome goodness that they place pictures of smiling old men and happily frolicking birds on their products.

There are many of you reading this and wondering, why not just have fish? Let us. Farmed fish is by design more prone to the presence of contaminants such as industrial chemicals, agricultural run-off often rife with pesticides and heavy metals, and the chemicals contained the food fed to these animals. There are also permissibly higher levels of antibiotics allowed in some fish species, than in livestock; after all one sick fish can kill a whole pen. There are a myriad number of fish which can be farmed; however, Jamaicans have become familiar with Tilapia, which is a hardy species with high yields.

Male Tilapia is generally preferred because of higher yields and the uniformity in size. A Jamaican farming manual indicates the developmental stage at which male-steroid containing feed should be given to promote sex inversion; a process where female fish are converted to males with testicular tissue. There is also the recommended practice of starving fish for 24 hours prior to ‘harvesting’ which makes netting them easier, increases their chance of survival before processing and helps to maintain their quality during processing. No one wants bruised fillets for dinner I guess.

Despite a notable presence on our market, the low levels of Omega-3 makes eating them almost a waste of time; while exposing our systems to all the chemicals that go into producing them.

I love meat, but I’ve resorted to exploring meat from known/trusted sources and with my recent decision to actively trim my mid-section fast food outlets are avoided like the pox. I have become more acquainted with my stove and the pots my mother in her wisdom bequeathed to me. I don’t think it’s practical to completely avoid these products, pervasive as they are but I think the following are options to explore:

  • o      Purchase Fresh Meat – Processed meats are intended to have a longer shelf life containing harmful preservatives and other ingredients used to extend their shelf and maintain their colour and consistency
  • o      Avoid Fast Food – Take your pick, many do offer some “healthy” options, but many consist of processed foods, a salad sprinkled with manufactured bacon bits, processed cheese product and refined flour croutons must make the lettuce cry
  • o      Aim for Natural Flavours – season your own foods with herbs, garlic, onion, scallions etc., all of which we grow here in Jamaica
  • Read Labels – look for ingredients that sound like food and not ingredients for paint. Many food additives are suspected of contributing to increased cancer risks, hyperactivity in children and decreased sperm counts. Also, look out for products with no added growth hormones, antibiotics or other drugs.
  • Purchase Food you Recognize – Chickens don’t produce square breasts nor are they neon orange like the fried chicken being served at the work canteen
  • Eat Regular Meals – keeping your stomach satisfied reduces the temptation to indulge in unhealthy food because of convenience proximity
  • Eat In-season – incorporate foods that are in-season, out-of-season means they need to be preserved by whatever means necessary it seems
  • Take Lunch/Snacks – if you provide your own trusted food there is less to be concerned about
  • Go Organic/ Free-Range – Our grandparents had it figured with the avoidance of fertilizers, pesticides and raising animals in pens, trapped in their own excrement
  • Avoid GMO – many foods are now genetically modified, try to eat locally grown foods that come from local seed banks (this is hard as many seeds are imported)alblg3 Do you know what your meat is?

I have resolved to implement as much of these pointers as I can and for your own health I encourage you to do the same. After all, we are what we eat. Why not eat as healthily as possible despite the challenges.

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Cheating, Dr. Beverly Hall and Jamaica

I was greatly disheartened to hear of the allegations surrounding the thirty-five former educators who were indicted last Friday in what is becoming the United States’ largest test cheating scandal.1 I was especially saddened by the fact that the face of such a grand scandal is one I can identify with. Dr. Beverly Hall is a product of the Jamaican school system. She graduated from two of the most acclaimed high schools2 in our country and like many Jamaicans who have ventured abroad; she worked hard and earned a leadership position in her field. She was an English teacher who ultimately became the superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools.

Beverly Hall Cheating, Dr. Beverly Hall and Jamaica

Beverly Hall shows off her medal after being named Superintendent of the Year. Jamaicans are accustomed to glory; we strive for excellence at home and abroad.

Allegations are that Dr. Hall fostered an environment in which educators were forced to cheat (adjust answers on standardized tests) in order to raise students’ test scores and as such she was indicted for violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). In other words, Dr. Hall is accused of being too hard a taskmaster. In a Gleaner article dated April 14, 2009, Dr. Hall explained that her passion for excellence stems from the insistence on success by her Jamaican family and the strictness of instruction that prevails in our schools.3 While I cannot say with certainty that Dr. Hall is not culpable in this case, I do not hold in esteem any system that can implicate supervisors for the wilful, illegal acts of their subordinates.

The focus on Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCTs) as the sole authority on the success of students is similar to the Jamaican obsession with the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT). Students from grade four and up are made to focus on the subjects that will be tested- they are drilled with past papers, made to attend intensive extra lessons and study very hard. At the end of this testing the students and teachers breathe a unanimous sigh of relief and enter into a three-month academic slump, awaiting their results and placement. The difference between Georgia’s CRCTs and Jamaica’s GSAT is that the results of GSAT determine whether Jamaican students will attend a traditionally ‘good’ high school or be condemned to the oubliette– a newly-upgraded, all-age or technical high school. The two tests are also different in that Jamaican public school teachers do not receive performance-based incentives so they have no financial stake in the student’s success. I imagine that during Dr. Hall’s primary school days, an excellent score in the (now retired) Common Entrance Exam would have secured her a place at St. Hilda’s High.

While Jamaicans are wont to cheat in several ways- giving bun4, lotto scamming, political dishonesty5, and the folk heroification of Anancy the trickster, I have never been led to question our national academic integrity. A copy taker was the worst thing you could be called in school; no form of cheating was sanctioned at any level of my academic career but I am sure there are a few students who did it anyway. I have never imagined that teachers and education administrators could be guilty of such crimes.  Unlike in Turkey where, as my friend related to me, cheating students are backed by their parents, teachers, administration and governmental policies; my experience is that an academically dishonest student is alienated in Jamaica. I do not want to believe that we have administrators or educators in our system who would participate in similar vices in order to save face. Or maybe I am young.

If my analysis of our system is incorrect, if Dr. Hall’s Jamaican-instilled mantra of having no choice but to succeed is what led her to “not do more to prevent it[cheating]”6 then we need to evaluate not only our educational structure but our social values, we need to find ways of instilling academic integrity from the ground up. We need to employ methods that will prevent children from copying others’ work in primary school, we must look into the teachers who are involved in the writing of these standardized tests and guarantee that the students they teach privately are not at an unfair advantage to those who cannot afford to pay for additional lessons, we have to ensure that there is balance in our delivery and that we do not thwart our students’ creativity by teaching just for the test; we also need to ensure that university administrators hold to their standards of matriculation.

Jamaica has outgrown the terrible arbiters by which we define success. The time has come for us to work diligently and creatively towards embracing the individuality of each child in our country and the whole human race.

  1. []
  2. St. Hilda’s and St. Andrew High []
  3. []
  4. cheating on an intimate partner []
  5. A Jamaican RICO might be of use in getting rid of “the Gangs of Gordon House,” but that is another story. []
  6. []
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Bus Fear and Digital Literacy

I am not a Grammar Nazi but the more I read text messages and tweets from certain people, the more I want to get rid of all the electronic devices around me and force my nieces and nephews to grow up in a world where verbal truncation is not an acceptable way of life. I am overcome with the desire to kidnap everyone who uses the wrong homophone, lock them in a trailer and instruct them with flash cards til they get it right. Please examine the below text message from two years ago that I have immortalized in the memory of my phone.

“I wan 2 go luk 4 Ant u can giv me z bus fear?”

I can only imagine that this was his or her informal method of communication, that he or she puts greater effort into other aspects of his or her writing than he or she puts into begging ‘bus fear’. Examine also this tweet:

Now, twitter allows you all of 140 characters to work with, you’ve only used 28 and find it necessary to abbreviate already short words like ‘see’, ‘that’ and ‘text’?

According to the American Library Association, digital literacy means the ability to locate, evaluate, and use digital information. The digitally literate can efficiently find the information they seek, evaluate that information, and use that information effectively. The ability to recognize what information is needed and when to use it are additional components of digital literacy.

I am disappointed that the Jamaican curriculum is still focusing on penmanship and so little on electronic typing skills, which includes texting. I believe this is the reason why so many people pay little attention to their electronic communication. I only write by hand on occasion when I have migraines and cannot face a screen; I acknowledge it is very counterproductive as I have to retype [sometimes I am unable to decipher my own handwriting] but I am sure that the emerging professional will have no need to scribble one word in ink. Perhaps the time invested in teaching chi

ldren Victorian cursive could be used to focus more on spelling and reading exercises. I haven’t seen any reading material in cursive since I left the third grade classroom. Even during school when I was forced to write cursive properly, I had primarily sans Serif types in my textbooks. This is largely like being forced to write an entirely different language than you read, they might as well have made us write Cyrillic.

jutc buses Bus Fear and Digital Literacy

Fear not the bus, fear the wrath of the preachers thereon.

Don’t you just love homophones? Apart from unnecessary truncation, this is the second most problematic issue I find in electronic communication, my third greatest concern is the nuances of American versus British English. I know that we now have spell checkers and acknowledge that they have been immensely useful to me but the only way you can use one effectively is if you actually know how to spell to a certain degree. Spell checkers are made to correct mistakes, not utter ignorance. There is no way around learning to spell. Even if your friends understand you, you need to be able to spell in order to effectively find information online. While Google and other search engines tend to make corrections some of the time,  effective online communication and research relies on more than search engines so we have to be able to express ourselves correctly which means having a wide vocabulary and knowing which homophone to use.

I can only advise you, friends, to read more and encourage your children to do likewise. Just don’t believe that the grammar of editorials is correct. The Jamaican newspapers are no longer holding to the standards of English and now come riddled with blatant mistakes, but that’s a whole other story.

Walk good,


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All Rights Reserved, Many Exercised

Exactly two months ago, I shared a bit of writing entitled Jamaican Grief Porn and John-Crow Journalism. I would like to thank you all for the positive feedback and shares; this piece is among the most popular to date on Negril Stories. A few days later my attention was drawn to a letter published in The Gleaner from a former columnist under the heading The media have lost news focus. The letter had a very striking resemblance to my post and while I read, I sighted several phrases of three words and longer that appeared exactly in my post.

I read and re-read the letter several times in an attempt to convince myself that this was a coincidence, that this man who has contributed many letters and columns to local newspapers did not just copy my work and send a botched version to the paper for publication, that nobody would be so brazen. I was unable to conclude that this was purely by chance so I did a bit of ranting then sent a letter to The Gleaner requesting that they remove the letter from their website and publish an apology. Three weeks later I received no response so I decided to call the relevant department. After several days, I finally got to speak to a gentleman who was the Opinion Editor and when I did I was told they did not receive the letter and I was provided with an alternate email address. After sending the letter the second time, I still received no response. I tried calling back for a week and finally got to speak to the same gentleman who gave me his personal e-mail address to send the letter to. He confirmed receipt on the 5th of March and to date the matter is yet to be addressed. I have emailed to check on the progress of the matter and no response has been forthcoming and as you can see, the letter is still there on their website today.

The Gleaner should check everything that goes through their press for libel/defamation and plagiarism and should at least pretend to take these matters seriously when they do arise; or maybe I am mistaken for thinking this is normal procedure in the 21st century. Or maybe it is acceptable to steal others’ work, as even the dear Dame Jane Goodall has been accused of lifting passages. Although an email address was published for the gentleman to whom the letter was attributed, I did not contact him on the matter as in my mind the newspaper is entirely responsible for what they publish. The gentleman was, however, sternly reprimanded by a friend of mine. She shared his response with me and his excuse was that “most people in the media fraternity had seen it etc… must have seen it… I saw it on a JOURNALISTS fb page… wade brown…. geffry phillips and i think Janet Silvera… a nuff people mi did see wid the blog article clipped to there profile…”. The gentleman also said:  “mi [nah] try steal nobody thunder…  ahmm mi even did waan repeat the article sentiment true FB nuh penetrate Jamaica the real way…. the internet is an elite place filled with an elite citizenry I am barely lucky to be apart of… most peoples internet connect is not even continuous but intermittent and mi know the net nuh reach 1 million of we 3 million population… i just thought a letter to the editor wi reach a ends in a chu-kuh… mocho and mafoota and mount horeb u zimmi…”.

Thanks, sir, but no thanks. I do realise that my blog does not enjoy the readership of the entire Jamaican population but as you acknowledged in your response to my friend, it did get to much of my target audience and even if it did not, the decision to submit it for publication on another medium would be entirely my own. You would have been free to drop me a line to recommend that I shared the article with a major newspaper, as many of my friends had done. You had no right to massacre my work and affix your name to it. You thought it was an “excellent article” so you should have left it as it was, where it was.

My dear readers, I love all of you and I welcome your honest opinion on everything I share with you. Every single time I press the word ‘publish’, I have a sense of opening up my heart a little wider to the world. That is one of the main reasons why I no longer submit opinion pieces to major newspapers, I used to do this frequently when I was in High School but I was never satisfied with how they edited my work, which I believe is a tangible  piece of my soul. Mainstream media is a wonderful outlet for many things but at this place in time, my work is not among them. I actively exercise the right to express myself and I will continue to reserve the right to choose my media.

Walk good.


P.S. I invite you all to follow Negril Stories as I continue to exercise my right to expression in the April A to Z Challenge. I will be publishing 26 posts throughout the month- one on each day except Sundays.

UPDATE: I have withdrawn from the A to Z Challenge.

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