Not a word on Mother Language Day!

Poor people Ha Fi Go Dead!

Two spelling systems are used for the Jamaican language below. The first, which I call ‘chaka-chaka’, is based on English spelling. The second, ‘prapa-prapa’, is the specialist system designed by the Jamaican linguist Frederic Cassidy. It has been updated by the Jamaican Language Unit at the University of the West Indies, Mona. After the two Jamaican versions, there’s an English translation.


bustamante-children-hospital-kingston-jamaicaA dat mi housekeeper Annie seh when mi tell her how much fi di lab test weh her son ha fi do: $22,000! She no mek dat fi di whole week. Di pikni dida go a Children’s Hospital an she never ha fi pay fi none a di test dem. Dat a up to when im a 12. Last year, im turn 13. Ascorden to Children’s Hospital, im a big smaddy now. So dem done wid im.

Im start go a Spanish Town Hospital. Im have kidney problem from im born. An a plenty sufferation di poor lickle pikni go through. Wen im a two month old, dem operate pon im. An a so im an im mada a fight life so til im a go high school now.

Di last time im go hospital, dem gi Annie paper fi tek go a Public fi do sinting fi mek im vein dem open up. Through she ha fi work, she aks her friend fi go get one appointment. Dem tell her seh Annie ha fi come. When she go, dem tell her seh di pikni ha fi come too so dem can look pan im vein before dem gi im appointment fi du wa dem a fi do. So she go back wid him one next day.

Annie work wid mi two day fi di week an dat a did one a fi mi day dem. She go a Public early di morning fi see if she coulda get through an still come a work. Lickle before 11, she call fi seh all now dem no see no doctor. So mi aks her fi mek mi talk to di smaddy weh in charge. She never bodder wid mi. She go talk fi harself.

She tell mi seh di doctor weh fi see di pikni deh inna theatre. If she never go aks, she woulda never find out. Anyhow, one next doctor gi her paper fi go a Apex lab pon Molynes Road fi do di said same test weh dem shoulda do a Public. Im never even look pon di pikni.


By dis time, it never mek sense fi Annie bodder come a work. She just go straight a Apex. Dem seh dem no do dat deh test an dem send her to one next Apex pon Winchester Road. Di next week, she go after she lef work. Dem tell her seh dat deh section close 4 o’clock pon Friday.

She go back di next week. Dem tell her seh dem no do dat deh test. She fi go a Oxford Medical. Unu see how much time a waste a go up an dung fi nutten! Not to mention bus fare! Wen mi hear di story, mi tell Annie seh mi a go call Oxford Medical fi mek sure dem do di test.

Well, wen mi look pon di paper, mi couldn’t mek out nutten weh di doctor write. A pure crab toe. Wa mek? Power! Fi mek wi know seh doctor know more dan wi. An wi dis ha fi sop it. Plenty a dem doctor tek Hypocritical Oath, not Hippocratic. Dem love money more dan people. No bodder mek mi start pon dem.

Mi tek picture a di paper an email it to Oxford Medical. Dem know how fi read crab toe. A fi dem bizniz dat. An dem do di test. But koo pon di price! Weh Annie fi get dat deh money? Wi ha fi do plenty better wid health care inna dis ya country.

Pikni age not suppose fi stop a 12. Dat no right. An wi done know seh Govament can’t afford fi gi everybody free health care. A pure politics mek dem mash up di system. Who can pay suppose fi pay. An who can’t pay suppose fi get help. Poor people can’t just dead so fi nutten.


A dat mi ouskiipa Annie se wen mi tel ar omoch fi di lab tes we ar son a fi du: $22,000! Shi no mek dat fi di uol wiik! Di pikni dida go a Children’s Hospital an she neva a fi pie fi non a di tes dem. Dat a op tu wen im a 12. Laas ier, im ton tortiin. Azkaadn tu Children’s Hospital, im a big smadi nou. So dem don wid im.

Im staat go a Spanish Town Hospital. Im av kidni prablem fram im baan. An a plenti sofarieshan di puor likl pikni go chruu. Wen im a tuu mont uol, dem apariet pan im. An a so im an im mada a fait laif so til im a go a ai skuul nou.

Di laas taim im go aaspital, dem gi Annie piepa fi tek go a Public fi du sinting fi mek im vien dem opn op. Chruu shi a fi wok, shi aks ar fren fi go get wan apaintment. Dem tel ar se Annie a fi kom. Wen shi go, dem tel ar se di pikni a fi kom tu so dem kyan luk pan im vien bifuor dem gi im apaintment fi du wa dem a fi du. So shi go bak wid im wan neks die.

Annie wok wid mi tuu die fi di wiik an dat a did wan a fi mi die dem. Shi go a Public orli di maanin fi si if shi kuda get chruu an stil kom a wok. Likl bifuor 11, shi kaal fi se aal nuo dem no si no dakta.So mi aks ar fi mek mi taak tu di smadi we in chaaj. Shi neva bada wid mi. Shi go taak fi arself.

Shi tel mi se di dakta we fi si di pikni de ina tieta. If shi neva go aks, shi wuda neva fain out. Eniou, wan neks dakta gi ar piepa fi go a Apex lab pan Molynes Ruod fi du di sed siem test we dem shuda du a Public. Im neva iivn luk pan di pikni.


Bai dis taim, it neva mek sens fi Annie bada kom a wok. Shi jos go striet a Apex. Dem se dem no du dat de tes an dem sen a tu wan nex Apex pan Winchester Ruod. Di neks wiik, shi go aafta shi lef wok. Dem tel ar se dat de sekshan kluoz 4 aklak pan Fraide.

Shi go bak di neks wiik. Dem tel ar se dem no du dat de tes. Shi fi go a Oxford Medical. Unu si omoch taim a wies a go op an dong fi notn! Nat tu menshan bos fier! Wen mi ier di stuori, mi tel Annie se mi a go kaal Oxford Medical fi mek shuor dem du di tes.

hypocriteWel, wen mi luk pan di piepa, mi kudn mek out notn we di dakta rait. A pyuur krab tuo. Wa mek? Powa! Fi mek wi nuo se dakta nuo muor dan wi. An wi dis a fi sop it. Plenti a dem dakta tek Hypocritical Oath, nat Hippocratic. Dem lov moni muor dan piipl. No bada mek mi staat pan dem.

Mi tek pikcha a di piepa an iimiel it tu Oxford Medical. Dem nuo ou fi riid krab tuo. A fi dem bizniz dat. An dem du di test. Bot ku pan di prais! We Annie fi get dat de moni? Wi a fi du plenti beta wid elt kier ina dis ya konchri.

Pikni iej nat sopuoz fi stap a 12. Dat no rait. An wi don nuo se Govament kyaahn afuod fi gi evribadi frii elt kier. A pyuur palitiks mek dem mash op di sistim. Uu kyan pie supuoz fi pie. An uu kyaahn pie supuoz fi get elp. Puor piipl kyaahn jos ded so fi notn.



That’s what my housekeeper Annie said when I told her the cost of the lab test her son has to do: $22,000! She doesn’t make that much in a week. The child used to to go to the Children’s Hospital and she didn’t have to pay for any of the tests. That was up to when he was 12. Last year, he turned 13. According to the mandate of the Children’s Hospital, he’s now an adult. So that’s it.

He started to go to the Spanish Town Hospital. He’s had  kidney problems from birth. And that poor child has suffered so much.   When he was two months’ old, he had to have an operation. And he and his mother have been fighting against the odds.  He’s now in  high school.

The last time he visited the hospital, Annie was referred to the Public Hospital to do a procedure to open up his veins. Because she has to work, she asked a friend to go and make an appointment. She was told that Annie herself had to come. When she did go, she was told that the child also had to come so they could examine his veins before giving him an appointment to do the procedure. So she went back with him another day.

Annie works with me two days each week and that was one of the days she should have come to work.  She went to Public early that morning, hoping to get through in time to still come a work. A little before 11, she called to let me know that she still hadn’t seen a doctor. So I asked her to let me speak with  the person in charge. She didn’t  bother with me. She went and spoke up for  herself.

She told me that the doctor who was supposed to examine the child was in theatre. If she hadn’t asked, she wouldn’t have known. Anyhow, another doctor gave her a referral to Apex lab on Molynes Road to do the very same test that should have been done at Public.  And he didn’t even examine the child.


By this time, it didn’t make sense for Annie to come to work. She just went straight to Apex. She was told that they don’t do the test there and she was sent to the Winchester Road lab. The following week, she went after work.  She was told that that section closes at 4 o’clock on Fridays.

She went back the following week. They told her that they don’t do the test and sent her Oxford Medical. You see how much time was wasted going up and down all for nothing! Not to mention bus fare! When I heard the story, I told Annie that I was going to call Oxford Medical to make sure they do the test.

hippocratic-oathWell, when I looked at the form, I  couldn’t make out anything the doctor had written. It was pure crab toe. Why? Power! To let us know that  doctors know more than we do. And we just have to  put up with it.  A lot of those doctors have taken the Hypocritical Oath, not Hippocratic. They love money more than people. Don’t let me start on them.

I took a picture of the form and emailed it to Oxford Medical. They know how to read crab toe. They’re in that business. And they do the test. But look at the price! How can Annie afford that?  We have to do much, much better with health care in this country.

Children shouldn’t be cut off  at age 12. That’s not right. And we know that the Government can’t afford to give everybody free health care. It’s nothing but politics that made them dismantle the system we had.   Who can afford to pay should pay.   And those who can’t should get assistance. Poor people can’t just die like that for nothing.

Jamaica going up in smoke

One day last month, there was a pestilence of smoke in my neighbourhood. It wasn’t an act of God. Just one of my selfish neighbours burning rubbish in his yard. And it certainly wasn’t enlightened self-interest. This is an intelligent man who must know that smoke can’t be good for his health.

Soon after I started to smell the nasty fumes, I got a call from his next-door neighbour asking if I’d gone for my walk. I told her I was just about to when I smelled the smoke. She asked me to come and see. That made no sense. When I looked out, I couldn’t believe the density of the smoke. And I was several houses away from the source!

I immediately locked up all my windows, hoping to keep out the ash that was sure to come. I eventually went on my walk after the smoke had cleared. Of course, the ill effects were lingering. There was still the acrid smell and God only knows what was in the air.

dont-let-lung-health-go-up-in-smoke-thumb.jpgBurning rubbish doesn’t make it go away. It just turns into deadly particles of disease that attack your lungs. Why is that so hard to understand? Why do we persist in believing that smoke is harmless? Respiratory problems are a very high price to pay for not getting rid of rubbish.


I was quite prepared to tackle my neighbour. But he wasn’t at home. Perhaps, he’d left before the fire was lit and I was falsely accusing him of negligence. If yu can’t ketch Kwaku, yu ketch im shut. In this case, it was the gardener. So I asked him why he had lit such a huge fire. He was burning out termites.

According to him, no other treatment was as effective as fire. Not true! Bleach and boric acid are a deadly combination. Believe it or not, a few days later, he was at it again. This time, it was a dead dog. Why couldn’t the dog have been buried instead of cremated?

Another morning, I confronted a gardener up the road who had set a big fire that was sending up clouds of smoke. When I asked him what he was burning, he said it was old clothes. I couldn’t believe it. So I asked why the clothes couldn’t have been put out in regular garbage. His response: “The lady don’t want nobody use her clothes do her nothing.” Words to that effect.

Mi couldn’t even get vex. Mi just had to laugh. As far as I know, that lady is a big Christian. But she was covering all her bases. Christian or not, she knew the power of obeah and was not taking any chances. She was just going to burn it out. Or at least the clothes!


I keep wondering if my inconsiderate neighbours don’t know that it is illegal to light fires in residential communities. It’s not just a courtesy to one’s neighbours not to smoke them out. It’s actually against the law.

The problem, of course, is that the law is not enforced. I’ve actually called the police station to report illegal fires. You can just imagine the response. With all the crimes the police have to deal with, you know illegal fires are very low on their list of priorities.

Sometimes it takes a near-disaster to cure some people of their very bad habit of setting fires. A gardener who works in my neigbourhood had the fright of his life when a fire he lit got out of control. He was sure the fire was going to burn down his employer’s house. He ran away, fearful that he would be arrested for destruction of property.

He was very lucky. The fire was put out in time. By then, he was very far from the scene of the crime. You can just imagine his relief when he found out that the house was still standing. And he’s never ever set another fire. He learnt his lesson the hard way.


We can’t continue with business as usual. We have to start a national campaign to educate Jamaicans about the dangers of setting fires here, there and everywhere. The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) is heroically doing what it can to bring the matter to public attention. But there’s only so much that one underfunded NGO can do.

It is the responsibility of the Government to come up with solutions to this persistent problem. In a press release issued last Monday, Diana McCaulay, CEO of JET, called on Prime Minister Andrew Holness to use all of the regulatory agencies to deal with the problem of extremely poor air quality across the island. Chief of these agencies is the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA).

According to its website, one of NEPA’s seven core functions is “environmental management”. This is defined as “Pollution prevention and control; pollution monitoring and assessment; Pollution incident investigation and reporting”. I wonder how much of this is actually done daily.


The Government absolutely must enforce the law against setting fires. Both domestic and industrial offenders must be systematically targeted. Until we start prosecuting lawbreakers for setting fires, nothing will change. Jamaica will just continue to go up in smoke. And not even obeah can save us.

KSAC Sells Street to Chinese?

ksacTwo Sundays ago, I got an alarming email: “Having read your article ‘Pearly Beach a no fi poor people’, I found it imperative to make you aware of a troubling situation existing in downtown Kingston. What obtains on Princess Street, between West Parade and Barry Street, are spaces along the roadway marked ‘No parking. RESERVED KSAC’, accompanied by a number of some sorts. These spaces are sold to Chinese business operators by someone at the KSAC at a reported cost of $200,000.

“I took the liberty of parking in one of the spaces recently and was instructed to move by a Chinese gentleman. I made some enquiries and found out that the business operators received letters with KSAC letterhead offering the purchase of parking spaces along the Government’s roadway. Well, suffice it to say, I did not move, as I don’t think I can buy space on the public thoroughfare in China, and believe Chinese should not be able to do so in Jamaica. I hope you may find interest to investigate this matter and bring some public attention through your column.”

I was interested and called the office of the CEO of the KSAC. He was in a meeting. When I said I was enquiring about the sale of parking spaces on Princess Street, I was referred to another office. But I didn’t want to buy a parking space. I needed information on the policy. It was only the CEO (in the meeting) who could update me.

So I sent an email: “Can you please let me know the terms on which parking spaces are sold? To whom are parking spaces sold? And at what cost? When was this policy first implemented? And how is it managed? I very much look forward to your answer to these questions and to any other pertinent information you can offer.”

To date, I haven’t got a response. If the KSAC operates in the same way as the Urban Development Corporation (UDC), I suppose I’ll get an answer in about two weeks. No matter how long it takes, these questions must be answered in the public interest.




The perceptive man who emailed me made a connection between the business of selling parking spaces on the street in downtown Kingston and limited access to Pearly Beach. It appears to be the same issue: The Government of Jamaica selling the rights of citizens to the highest bidder, whether foreigner or local.

e874c2259dbf5ae5c59c44f4e29bdcedAs it turns out, some of these presumed rights are not rights at all. They are figments of our collective imagination as a supposedly independent nation. I was intrigued by the response of Peter Knight, CEO of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), to both my column, ‘No beach for local tourists’, and Diana McCaulay’s excellent article, ‘The problem of beach exclusion’.

First of all, Mr Knight makes an error in reporting the headline of my column. He writes, ‘No beach for local tourist’. Singular. I actually wrote ‘tourists’. Plural. The issue of beach access is much bigger than the exclusion of a single individual. It’s about all Jamaicans who ought to have the right to enjoy well-kept beaches.

And, again, I’m appealing to all Jamaicans at home and in the diaspora to sign the petition to the prime minister launched by the Jamaica Environment Trust: ‘Better Beaches for All Jamaicans’. You can find it at So far, 1,245 of us have signed. Our goal is 5,000, at least.

Mr Knight’s response was published on January 22 with the deceptively succinct headline, ‘Jamaica’s beaches: access and rights’. I wondered if he was hoping that only a few people would read the long-winded article, especially since the news was not good:

“Ownership of the foreshore is vested in the Crown, except where rights are acquired under or by virtue of the Registration of Titles Act or any express grant or licence from the Crown subsisting immediately before 1956. The portion of the beach above the foreshore may be private or public property. The Beach Control Act did not seek to convey general rights to the public to gain access to and use the foreshore or the floor of the sea.”




In plain English, this is what Mr Knight was saying: “It’s the Crown (now the Government) who owns the beaches – unless the beach was sold or leased before 1956. So beaches can be either private or public property. The Beach Control Act was not set up to give the public any general rights to beach access.” In other words, dog nyam wi supper.

There is also the even older Prescription Act of 1882. That was passed over a century ago, a mere 15 years after the Morant Bay war. This act allows rights to fish and bathe, based on tradition. But, again, as Mr Knight writes, “There are no general common-law rights over the foreshore, except to pass over it for the purpose of navigation or fishing.”

Why have we held on to these outdated acts? Because they protect the interests of the rich and powerful, especially those who have made major investments in the tourist industry? I suppose we need tourism in much the same way we need Chinese businesses on Princess Street. But at what price? Where is the vision to save us from perishing?