Greek lessons for Andrew Holness

Our new prime minister needs to learn Greek very quickly. And it’s not just about language. Andrew Holness needs to take extra lessons from Alexis Tsipras, prime minister of Greece. He can learn a lot about how to keep election promises. Or not!

Tsipras came to power with a mandate to fight the austerity measures imposed on Greece by that rapacious three-headed monster, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Union (EU) and the European Central Bank (ECB). This was in January 2015.
Tsipras’  Syriza party declared that it would take the Greek people out of the wilderness of poverty into the promised land of prosperity. It was going to be an epic drama, worthy of Greek mythology.

But a January 26, 2015 BBC report on the Greek elections quoted the sceptical president of Germany’s Bundesbank, Jens Weidmann, who cynically hoped that the new Greek Government would, “not make promises it cannot keep and the country cannot afford”.

Weidmann put goat mouth on Tsipras. By July 2015, the Greek prime minister was forced to accept new austerity measures in exchange for an €85 billion bailout. The terms were punishing: higher taxes; cuts to social services and reform of the pension system. This meant raising the retirement age and slashing pensions. The lenders also insisted that the energy market had to be liberalised.

462746814.jpgThe end result: no prosperity, pure poverty. Almost one-third of the 149 members of parliament in Syriza revolted, refusing to support Tsipras. It was a matter of principle. The party had won the January elections on an anti-austerity ticket. It was now bowing to the demands of international lenders. Tsipras was forced to resign.

A snap election was held in September and, again, the hopeful Greek people gave Tsipras their vote of confidence. But, by November, a general strike was called by trade unions in protest against impending austerity measures.  Remarkably, the government supported the strike against its own desperate agreements with the international lending agencies!


Unlike Syriza, the new JLP government has not declared war on those creditors who are holding a big stick over our heads. Andrew Holness has promised to honour the commitments made by the PNP in negotiations with the IMF. But, as in the case of Syriza, a promise is a comfort to a fool.

The former JLP government, under the doubtful guidance of the old and new Minister of Finance Audley Shaw, completely discredited Jamaica in their dealings with international lending agencies. Like common thieves, they took the money and ran.

What’s going to happen if the IMF decides that Jamaica simply cannot afford the JLP’s expensive election promises? Are we going to default on debt repayment again? Will the JLP confess that its tax-reduction package was nothing but a con job to secure votes?

Believe it or not, unemployed people are expecting to get $18,000 per month payback from Andrew, starting in April. That’s what happens when politicians make election promises in a language that is Greek to the majority of the people.


That English expression, “it’s Greek to me”, turns the mother tongue of the Greek people into an incomprehensible language. Even before it was used in English, there was a Latin version: Graecum est; non legitur. Literally, “Greek it is; not readable”. That’s what the monks in the Middle Ages used to write when they couldn’t figure out the meaning of the text they were copying.

Of course, for the Greeks, their language is not a puzzle. They learn it in the womb. It comes to them naturally. They do have to study the intricacies of the language as a subject in school. But Greek is their inheritance. It’s not a foreign language.


In  Jamaica, English is not the mother tongue of the majority of us. It’s a second language we learn in school. And it’s not taught efficiently. So many of us learn it imperfectly. That’s why some people didn’t understand the JLP promises made in English.

Take, for instance, this JLP ad. It’s voiced by a sweet-talking lady who sounds very reassuring: “We know you want to take better care of your families. As soon as we win government, we will remove income tax for everyone who earns $1.5 million per year or less, putting more money in your pockets. Vote for prosperity! Vote for the Jamaica Labour Party!”

28175-sweet_talkSuppose the nice lady had said,  “Wi done know seh unu waan look after unu family lickle better. When wi win election, same time wi go a do suppen fi unu. Not fi all a unu. A ongle fi who a work an get payslip. If unu a work fi 1.5 million dollar fi di year, or anything under dat, Govament nah go tek no income tax outa unu pay. Unu a go have nuff more money. Vote fi step up inna life! Vote fi JLP”!

Everybody would have understood the message. But, perhaps, that was not the point. Then in Audley Shaw’s version of the ad, he mixed up gross and net pay. Not a good sign.
So what a thing when the people who don’t have gross or net pay start to demand their $18,000 per month from Andrew! Hell an powder house! Dat wi learn di politician dem fi start talk to people inna fi wi language. And dat a no Greek to wi!

John Crow, Jankro an Vulture

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.


Seet deh now! Language a one powerful sinting. Unu memba dem ya liriks wi did larn a primary school? ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me.’ Pure lie! Nutten no go so. Throw-word a one big stick. An it lik hot. Wen yu a pikni, an dem odder one a throw word pon yu, yu ha fi a gwaan like seh it no bodder yu. Cau yu cyaan do better.

694But wen yu grow big, yu naa tek it. Yu ha fi defend yuself. So mi understand wa mek di Labourite dem bex an a carry on bad bout wa Peter Bunting seh: “Some in the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leadership have been behaving like a set of John Crows, like vultures, gleefully reacting to every loss of life as an opportunity to gain political mileage.”

A di ‘John Crow’ bex dem. If Bunting did lef out di ‘John Crows’ an kip so-so ‘vultures’, di lik wuda never feel so hot. Trust mi! ‘Vulture’ no pretty. But inna fi wi culture, ‘John Crow’ worserer. All wen yu gi it di rightful sound inna fi wi language! Jangkro! No sah! It sound bad-bad.

So wa mek jangkro worserer than vulture? One a English an one a Jamaican. Vulture come outa book an jangkro down a dungle heap. Wi know vulture inna wi head; an wi feel jangkro inna wi heart. Fi wi language carry feelings. An a dat di language specialist dem mean wen dem seh Jamaican a fi wi heart language. It mek wi tek tings hard.


Still for all, if me was Andrew Holness, mi wudn waste no time pon ‘jangkro’. Dat bad an no so bad. A ‘political mileage’ mi wuda kick up gainst! Dat a one serious charge Bunting a mek. One big-big lik. Fi tink seh di JLP politician dem no cyah bout di whole heap a people weh a dead off? Murder top a murder! An a ongle vote dem a look, mek dem a bawl out? Dat bad – if a true. An mi no hear none a di Labourite dem a talk bout dat. All dem a stick pon a di jangkro throw word.

All eena Parliament, Desmond McKenzie im seh, “Once a John Crow, always a John Crow.” Wa dat good fa? A Bunting im a throw word pon? Dat a no how some a di PNP member dem tek it. Ascorden to Gleaner, dem laugh an seh, “Yuh seh so! Yuh seh so!” Dem a tek McKenzie mek poppy show. Dem a tell im seh cock mout kill cock. Mi no know if Bunting sorry fi true fi weh im seh. But it look like dem odder one inna fi im party no sorry to dat. Or dem wudn bodder seh nutten to McKenzie fi blaze up more fire.

Anyhow, mi tink seh Andrew Holness shuda condemn Bunting fi di ‘political mileage’ big lik. Opposition party supposen fi bawl out gainst govament wen tings naa run right. An if PNP did deh inna Opposition, dem wuda do di said same ting. Dem naa no argument. An if mi a jangkro, mi wuda well bex fi see how di politician dem a mix mi up inna fi dem nasty business.


Siit de nou! Langwij a wan powaful sinting. Unu memba dem ya liriks wi did laan a praimeri skuul? ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me.’ Pyuur lai! Notn no go so. Chruo-wod a wan big stik. An it lik at. Wen yu a pikni, an dem ada wan a chruo wod pan yu, yu a fi a gwaahn laik se it no bada yu. Kaa yu kyaahn du beta.

Peter Bunting

Peter Bunting

Bot wen yu gruo big, yu naa tek it. Yu a fi difen yuself. So mi andastan wa mek di Liebarait dem beks an a kyari aan bad bout wa Peter Bunting se: “Some in the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leadership have been behaving like a set of John Crows, like vultures, gleefully reacting to every loss of life as an opportunity to gain political mileage.”

A di ‘John Crow’ beks dem. If Bunting did lef out di ‘John Crows’ an kip suoso ‘vultures’, di lik wuda neva fiil so at. Chros mi! ‘Vulture’ no priti. Bot ina fi wi kolcha, ‘John Crow’ wosara. Aal wen yu gi it di raitful soun ina fi wi langwij! Jangkro! Nuo sa! It soun bad-bad.

So wa mek jangkro wosa dan vulture? Wan a Inglish an wan a Jamiekan. Vulture kom outa buk an jangkro dong a dongl iip. Wi nuo vulture ina wi ed; an wi fiil jangkro ina wi aat. Fi wi langwij kyari fiilinz. An a dat di langwij speshalis dem miin wen dem se Jamiekan a fi wi aat langwij. It mek wi tek tingz aad.


Stil far aal, if mii woz Andrew Holness, mi udn wies no taim pan ‘jangkro’. Dat bad an no so bad. A ‘political mileage’ mi uda kik op gens! Dat a wan siiryos chaaj Bunting a mek.  Wan big-big lik. Fi tink se di JLP palitishan dem no kya bout di uol iip a piipl we a ded aaf? Morda tap a morda! An a ongl vuot dem a luk mek dem a bawl out? Dat bad – if a chruu. An mi no ier non a di Liebarait dem a taak bout dat. Aal dem a stik pan a di jangkro chruo wod.

Aal iina Paaliment, Desmond McKenzie im se, “Once a John Crow, always a John Crow.” Wa dat gud fa? A Bunting im a chruo wod pan? Dat a no ou som a di PNP memba dem tek it. Azkaadn tu Gleaner, dem laaf an se, “Yuh seh so! Yuh seh so!” Dem a tek McKenzie mek papishuo.  Dem a tel im se kak mout kil kak. Mi no nuo if Bunting sari fi chruu fi we im se. Bot it luk laik dem ada wan ina fi im paati no sari tu dat. Ar dem udn bada se notn tu McKenzie fi bliez op muor faiya.

Eniou, mi tingk se Andrew Holness shuda kandem Bunting fi di ‘political mileage’ big lik. Opozishan paati supuozn fi baal out gens govament wen tingz naa ron rait. An if PNP did de ina Opozishan, dem uda du di sed siem ting. Dem naa no aagyument. An if mii a jangkro, mi uda wel beks fi si ou di palitishan dem a miks mi op iina fi dem naasi bizniz.


imagesThere you have it! Language is a powerful thing.  Do you remember this proverb we learnt in primary school? ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me.’ A total lie!  It’s simply not true.  Hurling abuse can be very effective.  It hurts a lot. When you’re a child and someone says something hurtful, you have to act like it doesn’t bother you.   Because you can’t do better.

But when you’re an adult, you just won’t put up with it. You have to defend yourself. So I understand why Labourites are angry and are carrying on so much about what Peter Bunting said: “Some in the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leadership have been behaving like a set of John Crows, like vultures, gleefully reacting to every loss of life as an opportunity to gain political mileage.”

It’s the ‘John Crow’ that’s angered them. If Bunting had left out the ‘John Crows’ and kept only ‘vultures’, it wouldn’t have hit so hard. Believe me! ‘Vulture’ isn’t good. But in our culture, ‘John Crow’ is rather worse.  And especially the way it’s pronounced in our language!  Jangkro! No, man! It really sounds very bad.

So why is jangkro worse than vulture? One is English and the other is Jamaican. Vulture is very bookish an jangkro is just down at the garbage dump. Vulture is a kind of abstraction and jangkro we know intuitively. Our language evokes feelings. And that’s what the linguists mean when they say Jamaican is our heart language. It makes us take things to heart.


All the same, if I were Andrew Holness, I wouldn’t waste any time on ‘jangkro’. That’s bad and not so bad. It’s ‘political mileage’ I would protest against! That’s a very serious charge Bunting is making. A forceful attack. To think that JLP politicians don’t care about all of the people who are dying? So many murders! And it’s only because they are looking for votes why they’re speaking  out? That would be disgraceful – if it’s true. And I don’t hear any of the Labourites protesting about that. All they’re stuck on is the jangkro label.Peter

Even in Parliament, Desmond McKenzie said, “Once a John Crow, always a John Crow.” What was that about? Was he trying to get back at Bunting ? That’s  not how some of the PNP MPs took it. According to a Gleaner report, they burst out laughing and said, “You say so! You say so!” They were having fun at McKenzie’s expense.  They were saying that his own words condemn him. I don’t know if Bunting  is really sorry for what he said. But it seems as if his colleagues aren’t all that sorry. Or they wouldn’t bother to answer McKenzie and pour more oil on the fire.

Anyhow, I think Andrew Holness should condemn Bunting for that ‘political mileage’ attack. Opposition parties are supposed to protest against the government when things are not right. And if the PNP were in Opposition, they would do the very same  ting. So they have no case.  And if I were a john crow, I would be very annoyed at the way in which politicians are dragging me into their nasty affair.

Chikungunya Spells Death

hqdefaultReverend Glen Archer, our champion spelling coach, seems to have died from chik-V complications. According to a Gleaner article published last Sunday, “He had been suffering from renal failure for the past five years, requiring dialysis two to three times per week.

 But his condition worsened in December when he got the Chikungunya virus”.

I don’t suppose the ministry of health would count Reverend Archer’s death as chik-V-related. He was probably not a ‘confirmed’ case. But there is so much anecdotal evidence of death as a result of the virus. Why has the ministry refused to acknowledge the high number of suspected cases?

And why has chik-V vanished from the news? It certainly has not left the bodies of its victims. Many of us are still suffering: fingers cramped up; feet hurting; constant pain all over with very little prospect of lasting relief. Chik-V is now chronic. It’s stale news.

Apart from the announcement of Reverend Archer’s death and Dr Shane Alexis’ warning of worsening complications (‘Chik-V combo’, February 12, 2015),  one of the most recent references to chik-V on the Gleaner web site turned up in Dr. Michael Abrahams’ amusing poem, “2014 Year in Review”, posted on January 5, 2015: “CHIKV pop dung almost everybody”. Dr. Abrahams’ estimate of the spread of the disease is much higher than that of the ministry of health.  And probably far more accurate!


On the Observer’s website, the report on Reverend Archer’s death published last Monday also pointed fingers at chik-V. Before that, the latest reference to chik-V appeared in Mrs. Barbara Gloudon’s column, “From CHIKV to scepticism in the nation’s health care”, published on January 9, 2015. Neither Dr. Abrahams’ poem nor Mrs. Gloudon’s opinion piece is hard-core news.

Mrs. Gloudon proposed that chik-V “could be regarded as one of the most disturbing events we have experienced in a long time”. And, as a veteran journalist, she fully understands how news works. So she adds: “One is tempted to brand it a nine-day wonder . . . . ” That’s the temptation the media, in all forms, must always resist – the big story that quickly burns out.

Mrs. Gloudon doesn’t end her sentence there. She continues, “but it has turned out to be more than that”.  Chik-V is noteworthy “for the sneakiness of its attack and how painful the hurt it brought us, the likes of which we had never known before. The pains still continue for many.

images-1“Last September, when out of nowhere it descended on us the minister of health soon became eligible for the unenviable title of most battered politician of the year. Beaten into submission by the growing tide of public disaffection over CHIKV, the national health system trembled”.

But chik-V did not sneak up on us. It did not descend from nowhere. In 2011, the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned us that chik-V was coming. They jointly published a document, Preparedness and Response for Chikungunya Virus Introduction in the Americas.


I don’t know when that document reached Jamaica. Unless it arrived after December 29, 2011, the Jamaica Labour Party would have been the government in office. Was the minister of health, Dr. Baugh, aware of the threat of chik-V? And, if so, what did he do about it?

In an article published in the Observer on September 26, 2014, with the headline, “Baugh: Chikungunya now a full blown epidemic”, the former minister of health speaks out: “According to Dr Baugh, all the doubts raised by the Government in response to the Opposition’s complaints about the uncontrolled spread of chikungunya in Jamaica have now been erased. He accused the Government of being arrogant and out of touch with reality on the ground”.

PAHO-technical-reportDr. Baugh is right. But it’s a case of no better pork, no better barrel. Both the JLP and the PNP failed us. Chik-V should not have come on us like a thief in the night.   The security guards should not have been sleeping on the job. I suppose the JLP government was too busy campaigning in 2011 to pay attention to chik-V.

But what’s the ‘excuse’ of the present Government? In May 2012, PAHO and the CDC put on a training workshop on chik-V at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel. Fourteen people from Jamaica attended that meeting. Did they spread the word? It doesn’t seem so. They should all be fired for negligence.

I recently gave an old lady a ride to the University hospital. She thought she had chik-V. A friend of hers had recommended kerosene oil for the rash. After using it one time, she stopped. She didn’t like how her skin was looking.

One of the tragedies of the chik-V epidemic is that the medical doctors had no idea how to help us. At first, they prescribed Panadol. And that was it. Then they added steroids to their bag of tricks. So we resorted to all kinds of self-medication: leaf of life, bizi, guinea hen weed, single bible, kerosene oil!  On and on we experimented.

If chik-V didn’t kill us, the combination of ‘cures’ certainly could. The doctor who tried her best to treat my unconfirmed chik-V told me recently that a new strain of the virus is on its way. And dengue is here as well. PAHO estimates that there may be more deaths from dengue than Chik-V across the Caribbean. Only God can help us.

National Adultery and Political Symbols

The light-headed person who came up with that provocative backdrop for the swearing-in ceremony last month of the Mayor of Montego Bay must have been under the influence:  liquor, hard drugs, politics, whatever.   He or she made a complete mockery of the national flag by blacking out the green.  This juvenile act proves that we have sunk to a new low in national politics.  Even the flag is no longer safe in the mindless colour war between orange and green fanatics.

In this particular skirmish the green party is completely innocent. The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) had nothing to do with the protocol for the civic ceremony.  Blame must be placed fairly and squarely on the orange party. The People’s National Party (PNP) won the local government election and appears to have lost its head.   If the decision to decorate the civic centre with a no-green flag was taken without the knowledge of high-ranking orange officials, then the backdrop should have been immediately taken down before the start of the ceremony.

In this instance, silence definitely means consent.  By passively sitting through the ceremony, members of the orange party signalled their approval of the backdrop.  How could Mayor Glendon Harris lower himself to assume the vestments of office in front of a defaced flag?  His belated apology that ‘somebody messed up’ is simply not good enough.  That anonymous ‘somebody’ is actually the whole lot of them who proceeded with the ceremony as if the missing green was not really a grave issue.

The PNP’s apparent condoning of this vulgar display of colour prejudice, so to speak, is alarming.  It means that national symbols such as the flag have lost their power to help us rise above partisan political affiliation.  The national flag is now just like an orange or green tee shirt that party faithfuls wear to show their true political colours.

Or not.  ‘Licky-licky’ people will greedily take the tee shirts, phone cards, money and whatever other handouts are on offer from both the orange and green parties and then vote exactly as they please. They may not vote at all since some of these hangers-on are nothing but ‘waggonists’ who aren’t even registered.

‘Hardships there are’

The distasteful anti-green flag is forcing us to take a fresh look at the meaning of this national symbol.  We can no longer assume that as a society we all accept the grand idea that national pride is wrapped up in what is really just a piece of cloth. It seems as it we are quite prepared to cut up the cloth to suit our rather limited political agendas.

All the same, I must admit that I do have issues with the flag.  Mine are black not green.   The original colour symbolism of the flag is not pretty:  “Hardships there are but the land is green and the sun shineth”.  The black in the flag represents hardship.  This is not a good sign.

Fifty years ago, this colour code must have seemed quite appropriate.  Newly independent Jamaica was once a slave colony.  And the legacy lingers.  Over many generations, our people have, indeed, endured great hardship.  The elite in the society who haven’t suffered very much were the ones who took it upon themselves to create our national symbols.

I would bet my last devalued dollar that nobody consulted the masses of the people about what they thought the colours of the flag should symbolise; or what would be an appropriate national motto.  It was business as usual for the elite.  They simply mimicked their European colonisers.  For them, black was the colour of evil, death, ignorance, savagery etc. – the complete opposite of white, which meant goodness, life, knowledge, civilisation etc.

There was a little complication that the elite clearly did not take into account. The majority of the Jamaican people are black.  But not invisible.  How could the elite have failed to see this? Or, perhaps, they did and just didn’t give a damn. That’s how they came up with their colour-blind national motto, ‘Out of Many, One People’.  Jamaica in their eyes was not a predominantly black society; it was multiracial.  The black in the flag could not possibly symbolise the majority of the people.

Green and Black Power

Rex Nettleford

I thought the meaning of the black in the flag was changed in the 1990s as a result of the work of the committee that was set up to examine national symbols and national observances, chaired by Rex Nettleford.  The recommendation of the committee was that black should now symbolise ‘strength and resilience’.  The committee was not courageous enough to go all the way to the blackness of the people.

But on a 2009 Jamaica Information Service (JIS) webpage, ‘This is Jamaica’, the old meaning of black is very much in evidence.  Is the JIS webpage out of date?  Or have we gone back to the old symbolism? In the 21st century, we cannot afford to keep thinking that black is hardship. We cannot remain imprisoned in old models of identity.

And we simply cannot adulterate the meaning of the green in the flag. One of my favourite Reader’s Digest jokes goes like this:  Children learning the Ten Commandments in Bible school were given picture cards each week illustrating the law.  Many parents anxiously awaited the illustration for ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’.  They were relieved to see a farmer pouring water into a bucket of milk.  Adultery.  Adulteration.  Watering down.

 We cannot allow the green in the flag to be appropriated by the JLP and devalued by the PNP. It’s far more potent.  Green represents the fertility of the land; it symbolises the creativity of our people:  JLP, PNP and every other P.  Green is a promise of regeneration.  Green is the new black.