Ambushed by the prime minister

On Sunday February 7,  I was forced to send a hasty email to colleagues at the Barbados campus of the University of the West Indies. I had accepted the invitation of Dr Aaron Kamugisha to give the annual Kamau Brathwaite Lecture in Cultural Studies. The agreed date was February 25.

 

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But Prime Minister Simpson Miller had just exercised her constitutional right to call an election any time she chooses. And I had every intention of exercising my own right to vote. Is a good thing I sent the email on Sunday night. Publicity for the lecture was going to be sent out on Monday morning. Luckily, we were able to postpone to March 3.

In the larger scheme of things, my change of plans to accommodate elections is a minor matter. But I’m sure there are far more problematic issues for people doing business in Jamaica. The deliberate uncertainty about the date of elections makes it difficult to plan efficiently.

Let me make it absolutely clear that I am not blaming the prime minister personally for this state of affairs. The real issue is our foolish system of governance. It gives too much power to the prime minister to arbitrarily determine when elections are called.

AMBUSH IN THE NIGHT

The date of elections should be fixed. No prime minister should be able to ambush the Opposition and the people of Jamaica with elections that come like a thief in night. The prime minister’s announcement last Sunday was clearly a surprise for the Opposition, even though they had been daring her to call elections.

Our Maroon ancestors perfected the art of the ambush. From their vantage point in the mountains, they were able to expertly attack British soldiers. Foolishly dressed in bright red uniforms, the arrogant soldiers were an easy target. The Jamaica Labour Party is certainly not as vulnerable as those British soldiers. Their green uniforms are good for camouflage in the bush.

andrew_holnessAll the same, the suddenness of the prime minister’s announcement of elections seems to have destabilised the Opposition. Andrew Holness is now crying foul. In Jamaica, politics is war. And, as proverbial wisdom cynically asserts, all is fair in love and war.

These days, we are much more sophisticated than we used to be. Instead of brutally attacking opponents with physical violence, we now use old and new media. The blows are still effective but there’s far less blood. This is definitely progress.

“NAH VOTE AGAIN”

When I gleefully told a friend how happy I was that I would be able to vote, the surprising response was, “Does voting mean that much to you?” Of course, it does! I know the history of this country. There was a time when black people could not vote unless we owned substantial property.

The right to vote puts all of us on an equal footing, even if it’s only for one day. As Louise Bennett observes in her poem, Revelation:

Everybody got a vote, an

Every vote gwine swell de score;

Missa Issa, Missa Hanna

An de man wat sweep de store.

hqdefault-1Still for all, I completely understand the position of those non-voters who can’t be bothered to participate in the ritual of elections. For them, it’s a choice between worse and ‘worserer’. The Rastafari DJ Anthony B is the spokesman for a whole heap of Jamaicans who “nah vote again”.

Anthony B gives new meaning to the names of our political parties. PNP becomes “pains, needs an’ poverty”. JLP is “juicing di life of di ghetto pikni”. And NDM is “new destruction for you and me”. Fed up with deceitful politicians who promise what they don’t intend to deliver, many Jamaicans just ‘tek weh’ themselves out of politics.

ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION

Except for diehard Labourites and Comrades, rational Jamaicans do have moments of doubt when we wonder what is the point of voting. It’s the same old, same old: Politicians getting fatter and fatter, living high on the hog. I keep wondering if the men, especially, are not aware of the risk of diabetes that comes with overweight. And diabetes medication often causes erectile dysfunction. It comes down to a choice between sex and food.

b2d31fe6.jpgWhat keeps me voting is the certainty that my voice does matter. I decide which seems to be the lesser of the two evil parties, and I vote against the more evil one. Third parties don’t stand a chance in our either/or system. So that leaves the NDM out. One of these days, I’d like to able to vote for a party rather than against. I just don’t know when.

People who don’t vote like to think they’re superior to those foolish ones of us who still participate in the fraudulent system. There’s a kind of arrogant self-righteousness about not voting that can be very comforting. Me never vote fi dem. So no bodder come tell me nutten bout dem.

But non-voters do vote for ‘dem’ by default. You end up voting for whoever wins because you did not exercise your right to make a choice. If we don’t want to keep on being ambushed by politicians, we must insist on claiming the right to vote for a new system of governance. One that fixes the date of elections and takes absolute power out of the hands of the prime minister.

Time to ban Styrofoam containers

12657408_1548330095477145_2094982700033069835_oLast month, I took part in a cleanup of the beach along the Palisadoes strip. There were about 50 of us and we collected 60 huge bags of garbage in just about two hours. We left the toilet and microwave oven that someone had deposited on the beach. What kind of person would do a thing like that?

I was really surprised at the amount of Styrofoam littering the beach. There were clean white plates that looked as if they had recently blown away before use. And then there was a whole heap of dirty Styrofoam that must have been left ages ago. A total mess.

Styrofoam is the brand name of a petroleum-based plastic that does not biodegrade. It breaks apart into bits and pieces that keep getting smaller and smaller until they turn to dust. But Styrofoam doesn’t disappear. It lingers on and on for centuries! That’s no exaggeration. You just can’t get rid of it.

So-called ‘disposable’ Styrofoam food and drink containers are not actually disposable. They are disposable only because they are thrown away after a single use. What a waste! Just think how many Styrofoam containers we dash weh every single day in Jamaica. And where do they go? To the dump, taking up valuable space.

Masses of Styrofoam containers also get away into the sea. Fish eat the Styrofoam. And we end up eating the fish. We might as well gobble down the Styrofoam container along with the food. Because the Styrofoam is already in the food chain!

DUPPY WHISPERER

I keep thinking of the good old days of the ‘shut pan’. Or ‘shet’ pan. The Dictionary of Jamaican English describes it this way: “A vessel of tin or other thin metal, cylindrical, with a cover having a flange that usually fits inside the upper edge and makes a tight closure; the cover frequently has a small fixed handle. The shut pan is chiefly used to carry food.”

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Note chiefly! The Dictionary states that the shut pan was also used to catch duppies. Seriously! Talking of which, mi nearly dead wid laugh the night I went to see Patrick Brown’s ‘Duppy Whisperer’ at Centerstage. It was a benefit performance for my friend Scarlette Beharie, a vibrant theatre practitioner fighting Stage Four cancer. Scarlette made a brief appearance and told us to enjoy the show despite the serious cause. And we certainly did.

Before the play started, I got into a little situation with the mother of young woman whose hairstyle was blocking my view of the stage. She had natural hair, swept up and out into a huge ball. It was like an Afro on steroids. I gently told her that her inconsiderate hairstyle really wasn’t appropriate for the theatre, especially our makeshift venues that are not purpose-built.

The rows are all on the same level instead of being graded. And the seats are not staggered. You look directly into the ‘head back’ of the person in front of you, rather than to the side. The mother was unimpressed by my frankness and told me I was against her daughter’s hair because it was natural! I was lucky to be able to switch seats.

CONSTANT WASTE

The shut pan for food, not duppies, was an excellent idea. It was certainly not disposable. There was no constant waste of containers. The pans had compartments stacked on top of each other that allowed food items to be kept separate. I’m not sure how these shut pans came to Jamaica. It may have been via India where they are known as tiffin boxes.

bombay-tiffin-250x250The old-time shut pan is no longer in fashion. But there are new models all over on websites like Amazon. Instead of buying cooked meals served in Styrofoam, why can’t we carry our own reusable food containers to takeaway restaurants?

Another option is to replace Styrofoam with biodegradable containers made from materials like sugar cane, wheat and corn. These are much more expensive than the cheap plastic products. But the cheapest almost always turns out to be the dearest.

There was a local company that used to manufacture truly disposable containers, facilitated by a government subsidy on imported materials. But the subsidy was cut and the cost of making the ecofriendly products was just too high. And that was the end of that.

NUH DUTTY UP JAMAICA

The Palisadoes cleanup was organised by the Japan International Corporate Agency (JICA), in partnership with the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) and the ‘Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica’ campaign. Cleverly billed as ‘Garbie Walkie’, the cleanup combined exercise and public service. We had a lot of fun.

As I was leaving the beach, I heard a woman say, “I don’t want to use Styrofoam ever again!” She admitted that she couldn’t say she absolutely wouldn’t. Sometimes you just don’t have a choice. Supermarkets pack fruits and vegetables in Styrofoam containers. But if enough of us decide we’re not going to buy products packed in Styrofoam, things will change. Consumers do have power.

NDUJ_logo_AW-01And as for the campaign to stop duttying up Jamaica! It’s an uphill battle to persuade some people that garbage is everybody’s business. They think that when they fling rubbish out of a bus or car, it’s no longer their problem. They are so short-sighted. That’s how you end up with a toilet on the beach. Pure crap!