FLOW Giveth and FLOW Taketh Away

Blessed be the name of FLOW? Hell, no! FLOW isn’t giving the Jamaican consumer a damn thing. We are paying premium rates for a less-than-premium product. And something has got to be done about it. Last Wednesday, I’d had enough of FLOW’s bite-and-blow customer disservice.

I called the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) to find out how dissatisfied customers could file a class-action suit against Liberty Global. Many of us don’t seem to know that it was Cable & Wireless that bought FLOW, not the other way around. I suppose some sensible executive realised that FLOW was a better brand than sour LIME and retained that name.


And Liberty Global bought Cable & Wireless. A Gleaner article published on Friday, March 31 reports that, “Large cable operator Liberty Global, the owner of FLOW, wants its regional businesses to generate more cash, and has set them a target of US$1.5 billion.” We had better watch out. Liberty come from carelessness. We might soon be paying far more for even less.


Both the general counsel and the director general of the OUR were in a meeting. I left my old LIME number, which is now working. Believe it or not, bright and early Sunday morning, I got a call from FLOW. It was my fairy godmother who said that a technician would be coming to fix my phone later that day.

I suppose I should have been happy that, after a month or so, the service was going to be restored. Instead, I was outraged. It seemed as if I was being given preferential treatment because of my column published that same day, ‘FLOW’s stagnant channels’.

I asked about all those other customers who are being exploited by FLOW. When are they going to get back service? And I referred to a tweet in response to the column: “All across Jamaica, sounds of ‘um huh’, in agreement with @karokupa.” The technician did come and left this note: “I found the problem on the pole and repaired same. Please call me if you have any queries. Thanks for your continued faith in us.”


Faith in FLOW? What’s faith got to do with it? FLOW is not a church. And many churches place a much higher premium on customer satisfaction than FLOW. They ensure direct access to God, who answers prayers.

According to the New Testament, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” It seems as if it’s FLOW that has faith in us. The company seems to be hoping that in the absence of evidence that it is actually giving us what we pay for, we will stick with it until the end of time.


On Tuesday, my fairy godmother sent another technician to restore the channels that were temporarily off the air. The first question I asked was if the van was leaking oil. He said no. By the time he finished fixing the channels, there were patches of oil in the driveway. About a one-foot square! And talking of square, I must correct an error in last week’s column. I omitted ‘square’ in my summary of Einstein’s famous equation.

My ‘faith’ in FLOW didn’t last long. By Wednesday, there was a new problem. I had paid for a package on my old FLOW line that allowed me to make flat-rate land and cell calls to the US. When I tried to make a call, I got this message, “International calls are not permitted from this number.”

So now my options for making calls to the US were to pay extra from either my old LIME phone or my cell phone. How could this possibly be acceptable? After mi cuss two bad word, I called my fairy godmother. She promised to investigate the matter. Service was restored by Friday. Why should I need a fairy godmother?

That’s how I ended up calling the OUR. The director general returned my call and I followed up with an email in which I asked four questions: Can dissatisfied FLOW customers file a class-action suit against Liberty Global? If so, how? Are there any laws that protect consumers against utility companies that fail to deliver the services for which they are paid? If not, what is being done to put such laws in place? I haven’t got any answers as yet.

Then, I discovered that the following notice from FLOW does not tell the whole story: “Due to broadcast restrictions, we are unable to air the current programme on this channel. Please check your local listing to determine the availability of this programme on another channel.” You can certainly get programmes like ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’ and ‘Modern Family’ on another channel. But definitely not on FLOW! Digicel bought the rights. Right under FLOW’s nose!


By the way, Digicel is purchasing its off-island capacity to provide Internet service from FLOW. Since the companies are wrapped up in bed, you would think they could be generous enough to include all their customers in the happy union. And allow us access to all programmes! But, no! It’s all about competition. And the biggest loser is the customer. It seems as if the OUR needs to set up a Special Victims Unit to protect us from both Digicel and FLOW.

FLOW + LIME = Minus Zero

Robocall-02On Christmas morning, a telephone call woke me up at 5 a.m. It was FLOW reminding me that payment of my monthly bill was overdue. It must have been a robocall from a very badly programmed robot. No self-respecting human being would call anyone that early on Christmas morning to run down money. Mi just kiss mi teeth and go back to sleep.

This kind of insensitivity is typical of the new FLOW or the old LIME. As people out a road say, all FLOW means is ‘Following LIME’s Old Ways’. And LIME was well sour. So the marriage of LIME and FLOW is nothing but double trouble.

Proverbial wisdom warns that ‘marriage have teeth’. I like to add, “and bite hot”. But I know there’s another side to this seemingly cynical piece of advice. Cleverly used teeth can give lots of pleasure, not pain. It’s all about technique. A cold, hard bite or an edgy, hot caress!


In the case of the marriage of LIME and FLOW is pure hot and painful biting for customers. I suppose the merger was a win-win deal for the two companies. Dem must know why dem married. Love of money. But I’m really not concerned about the effect of the marriage on the primary partners. Dem can nyam up demself for all I care.

All the same, to think that Cable & Wireless started off as a monopoly, gouging out the eyes of defenceless consumers. And now it has lost even its name to a former competitor! It just goes to show. I can still remember the days when we used to have to beg and beg and beg Cable & Wireless to get a landline. We had to plead for the privilege of paying for the service. It sometimes took years to get a phone.

WhatGoesAround_MarkWard_1000_1_1000And as for mobile phones! Remember when we actually had to pay to receive a call? Both the sender and the receiver got jacked up. It was highway robbery pure and simple. Now, free phone call giving away left, right and centre. Serves Cable & Wireless right! What goes around comes around.

But mi no business wid fi dem business to dat. The real victims of the marriage of LIME and FLOW are the innocent customers of both companies who had no say at all in the transaction. We are the ones who’ve been bitten. Twice. And it’s no honeymoon. We’re stuck with whatever the new FLOW dishes out.


imagesLast Wednesday, I spent almost an hour trying to get information about purchasing an iPhone 6S. According to the FLOW website, the company was offering phones “starting at $7,249.58+GCT with sign-up of select postpaid plans”. This seemed too good to be true. My ancient iPhone 4, a gift from LIME, cost 10 times that. The price of nothing goes down in Jamaica. So I wondered if the postpaid plans cost an arm and a leg.

The FLOW website lists 16 stores where the phone can be bought. But not one single phone number. How strange! A telecommunications company that refuses to communicate with customers by phone! So I went to the online Yellow Pages.

There were numbers for the corporate offices and for the customer care centre. Don’t get me started on ‘customer care’. The system takes you through a long list of automated questions until, finally, after waiting and waiting and waiting you actually get the chance to talk to an agent.


On the Yellow Pages site, I did find telephone numbers for some FLOW stores. The single page of numbers is headed ‘FLOW DEALER LOCATIONS cont’d’. Continued from where? Nothing comes before the continuation. Does nobody at FLOW realise that the Yellow Pages listing is messed up?

imagesUnfortunately for me, the ‘continued’ list of five Kingston stores did not include a single location that sold the iPhone 6S. In total frustration, I decided to call the corporate offices to complain. The operator said she couldn’t put me through to the CEO’s office. I bit my tongue. I called back a little later and was permitted to leave my name and number.

I did get a voicemail message from the CEO’s office, but when I returned the call, the person who had called me was not in office. So I called back Thursday morning. I had no luck getting through. I just gave up. Buying a phone shouldn’t be so much trouble.


The only alternative to the new FLOW is, of course, Digicel. Salesmen from the company were in my neighbourhood recently trying to persuade me to switch. They were offering lower rates than FLOW for three months. Quite frankly, I was sceptical. This sounded like swopping white dog for monkey! Digicel’s rates would probably increase way past FLOW’s soon after I took the bait and switched.

Then Digicel is purchasing its off-island capacity to provide Internet service from FLOW! So FLOW and Digicel are not competitors. They’re sweethearts. We’re getting screwed in the polygamous marriage between LIME, FLOW and Digicel. Jamaican consumers deserve much better than to be bitten by all of those teeth.

Wa A Joke To You A Death To Me

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.


Charlie Hebdo office

Charlie Hebdo office

Wen mi see weh di Kouachi bredder dem gwaan wid a Paris, mi seh to miself mi better seh sorry quick-quick to di whole heap a KC old boy weh bex wid mi all now chruu mi did run lickle joke wid dem inna mi column, ‘KC old boys desire male sex’. Dem never waan no woman go a dem big dinner. So mi seh a ongle man dem waan: di male sex.

Wa burn some a di man dem a di next meaning a di headline weh mi did a play wid inna di column. Mi mek it sound like seh dem waan fi sex man. God know, mi never know dem wuda tek it so hard. Mi did tink seh dem must see seh a romp mi a romp wid dem. How mi kuda tink seh every Jack man no waan Jill? No must joke mi a mek!

Nuff a di old boy dem never tink it funny at all at all. Dem seh mi a seh dem funny fi true. An dem threaten fi kill mi. See one a di deadly email weh mi get ya: “You are truly a disgusting piece of protoplasm. I hope you spend the rest of yuh life ah look behind you because kc roots run deep in the communities of downtown Kingston and rural Jamaica.”

Some a di confident KC old boy dis laugh it off. Dem never bawl out chruu no stone no lik dem. One young old boy weh go a UWI seh to mi, “Miss, I don’t know why dem going on like dat. Because is long time dem saying dat bout us. And me don’t mek it bodder me.” A no dat im seh word fi word. But a dat im mean.


It look like seh di old old boy dem tek it harder than di young old boy dem. Mi did hear seh some a dem did a threaten fi sue Gleaner. Dem no sex man an Gleaner a scandalise dem. Mi no waan no KC old boy, young or old, go a Gleaner office go shoot up poor Oliver Clarke an di editor dem sake a mi column.

images-3Put fun an joke aside. Wen mi tink bout it, sex come een like religion. Who yu sex a who yu be. A di said same way people feel seh di god dem worship a who dem be. Dem a Christian, dem a Jew, dem a Muslim, dem a Rasta. Dem religion a dem livity. It a dem nature. Same like how yu sex a yu nature. An eena fi wi Jamaica language, wi all use di word ‘nature’ fi mean sex life. Like how wi seh lime cut yu nature.

By di way, mi wonder if LIME a go change fi dem sour name when dem married to Flow. Dat deh name never mek no sense. It no sweet wi. A no like eena Trinidad an Tobago weh lime mean party. An wat mi no understand, di company no name LIME down deh. Dem a Cable and Wireless. Anyhow mi ongle hope LIME nah go cut Flow nature.

Di Charlie Hebdo cartoonist dem shuda did know seh dem no fi tek Prophet Muhammad mek poppyshow. Still for all, dat no mean dem shuda dead fi dat. An mi shuda did know seh mi no fi run joke wid Jamaica man seh dem waan fi sex man. Mi jook dem pon dem nature. An mi sorry. Old-time people seh, “Wa a joke to you a death to me.” An a true.


jack-n-jillWen mi si we di Kouachi breda dem gwaan wid a Paris, mi se tu miself mi beta se sari kwik-kwik tu di uol iip a KC uol bwai we beks wid mi aal nou chruu mi did ron likl juok wid dem ina mi kalam, ‘KC old boys desire male sex’. Dem neva waan no uman go a dem big dina. So mi se a ongl man dem waan: di miel seks.

Wa bon som a di man dem a di neks miinin a di edlain we mi did a plie wid ina di kalam. Mi mek it soun laik se dem waan fi seks man. Gad nuo, mi neva nuo dem wuda tek it so aad. Mi did tingk se dem mos si se a ramp mi a ramp wid dem. Ou mi kuda tingk se evri Jak man no waan Jil? No mos juok mi a mek!

Nof a di uol bwai dem neva tingk it foni at aal at aal. Dem se mi a se dem foni fi chruu. An dem chretn fi kil mi. Si wan a di dedli iimiel we mi get ya: “You are truly a disgusting piece of protoplasm. I hope you spend the rest of yuh life ah look behind you because kc roots run deep in the communities of downtown Kingston and rural Jamaica.”

Som a di kanfident KC uol bwai dis laaf it aaf. Dem neva baal out chruu no stuon no lik dem. Wan yong uol bwai we go a UWI se tu mi, “Miss, I don’t know why dem going on like dat. Because is long time dem saying dat bout us. And me don’t mek it bodder me.” A no dat im se wod fi wod. Bot a dat im miin.


It luk laik se di uol uol bwai dem tek it aada dan di yong uol bwai dem. Mi did ier se som a dem did a chretn fi suu Gleaner. Dem no seks man an Gleaner a skyandalaiz dem. Mi no waan no KC uol bwai, yong ar uol, go a Gleaner afis go shuut op puor Oliver Clarke an di edita dem siek a mi kalam.

Put fon an juok asaid. Wen mi tingk bout it, seks kom iin laik rilijan. Uu yu seks a uu yu bi. A di sed siem wie piipl fiil se di gad dem worship a uu dem bi. Dem a Krischan, dem a Juu, dem a Muslim, dem a Rasta. Dem rilijan a dem liviti. It a dem niecha. Siem laik ou yu seks a yu niecha. An iina fi wi Jamieka langwij, wi aal yuuz di wod niecha fi miin seks laif. Laik ou wi se laim kot yu niecha.

Bai di wie, mi wonda if LIME a go chienj fi dem sowa niem wen dem marid to Flow. Dat de niem neva mek nuo sens. It no swiit wi. A no laik iina Trinidad an Tobago we laim miin paati. An wat mi no andastan, di kompini no niem LIME dong de. Dem a Cable and Wireless. Eniou mi ongl uop LIME naa go kot Flow niecha.

Di Charlie Hebdo kyaatuunis dem shuda did nuo se dem no fi tek Prafit Muhammad mek papishuo. Stil far aal, dat no miin dem shuda ded fi dat. An mi shuda did nuo se mi no fi ron juok wid Jamieka man se dem waan fi seks man. Mi juk dem pan dem niecha. An mi sari. Uol taim piipl se, “Wa a juok tu yu a det tu mi.” An a chruu.


18BROTHERS_IDS-articleLarge-v2After seeing how the Kouachi brothers terrorised Paris, I said to myself I’d better apologise right away to all those KC old boys who are still angry with me because of my joking around with them in my column, ‘KC old boys desire male sex’. They didn’t want women to attend their grand dinner.  So I said they only wanted men:  the male sex.

What hurt some of the men was the other meaning of the headline that I was playing around with in the column. I made it seem as if they wanted to have sex with men.  God knows, I didn’t know they would take it so hard.  I thought they must see I was teasing them. How could I think that every Jack man doesn’t want Jill? I must have been joking!

Many of the old boys didn’t think it was funny at all.  They said I was saying that they are really ‘funny’.   And they threatened to kill me.  Here’s one of the deadly emails I got: “You are truly a disgusting piece of protoplasm. I hope you spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder because kc roots run deep in the communities of downtown Kingston and rural Jamaica.”

Some of the confident KC old boys just had a good laugh.   They didn’t protest because they didn’t feel attacked.  One of the young old boys, who is a student at UWI, said to me, “Miss, I don’t know why they’re getting on like that. Because people have been  saying that about us for a long time now. And I don’t let it bother me.” That’s not what he said word fi word. But that’s what he meant.


It seems as if the old old boys took it harder than the young old boys.  I heard that some of them were threatening to sue the Gleaner. They don’t have sex with men and the newspaper is scandalising them.  I don’t want any KC old boy, young or old, to go to the Gleaner office and shoot poor Oliver Clarke and the editors because of my column.

images-2All joking aside. When I think about it, sex is like religion. Your sexuality is your identity. In the same way, some people think that their religion is their identity. They are Christian, Jew, Muslim, Rasta. Their religion is their way of life. It’s their nature. Just as one’s sex is seen as natural. An in our Jamaican language, we use the word ‘nature’ to mean sex drive. For example, we say that  lime slows down your sex drive.

By the way, I wonder if LIME is going to change their sour name when they get married to Flow. That name made no sense. It doesn’t appeal to us. It’s not like in Trinidad and Tobago where lime means partying. And what I don’t understand is that the company isn’t named LIME there. It’s Cable and Wireless. Anyhow, I only hope LIME isn’t going to slow down Flow.

The Charlie Hebdo cartoonists should have known not to make a mockery of the Prophet Muhammad.  All the same, that doesn’t mean they should be killed for it. And I should have known not to  joke around with Jamaican men about their being homosexual.  I hit them at the core of their identity. And I’m sorry. Proverbial wisdom warns, “What’s a joke to you is deadly serious to me.” And that’s the truth.

LIME In A Very Sour Pickle

Tony Rebel

BEFORE LISTENING to the lyrics of Potential Kidd’s song Yah So Nice, I assumed from the title that ‘yah’ meant Jamaica. I figured that the song was an echo of Tony Rebel’s big tune, Sweet Jamaica:

Help mi big up Jamaica

The land of wood and water

The system might no proper

But wi love the vibes, the food and the culture.

Woh, can’t you see

The beauty of this country?

Mi never know, a serious thing

Until mi reach a foreign.

Seh wat a nice place fi live

Sweet Jamdown

Di only problem is dollars nah run.

As it turns out, Potential Kidd’s ‘yah’ is located in another territory. It’s a land of wood and moist valleys and it lies at the intersection of a woman’s legs. Yah So Nice is actually all about sexual intercourse, particularly the DJ’s fixation on female genitalia. This is not a surprising theme in dancehall lyrics. But there are a few unusual images. Potential Kidd compares his sexual encounter to religious conversion: “A yah so nice, mi tink a God a save me”.

Especially on Easter Sunday, some saintly souls will surely consider those lines sacrilegious. But ecstasy, whether religious or sexual, is at core a form of rapture – being carried away out of the body. In fact, the English word rapture comes from the Latin raptura meaning ‘seizure, rape, kidnapping’. In English, the connotations of the word are not at all rapacious.

Potential Kidd seems to be caught in a state of perpetual amazement. Apparently, the inexperienced DJ is not accustomed to having intercourse – whether verbal or sexual – with women who are both physically attractive and literate:

Baby skin clean a dat amaze me

Wat a girl body right

A dat amaze me

She can read and write

A dat amaze me

Clean and dirty versions

Out of the blue come the truly amazing lyrics that have put LIME in a pickle for promoting ‘Yah So Nice’: “Before mi turn a b—-y man/Mi prefer turn a raper”. Did no one at LIME listen to these lyrics before selecting Potential Kidd and ‘Yah So Nice’ for an advertising campaign targeting high-school students? It is true that these offensive lines are edited out of the ‘clean’ version. But since the ‘dirty’ version is easily accessible on the Internet, the distinction between the two is purely academic.

To be fair to Potential Kidd, his statement shouldn’t be taken out of context as a straightforward promotion of rape. It is a hypothetical situation he imagines in which rape is conceived as the lesser of two evils. Socialised in Jamaica, he has been brought up to believe that homosexuality is the worst possible fate that could befall him. Even worse than becoming a ‘raper’. And we all know where that fear of homosexuality comes from: straight from the Old Testament. Potential Kidd’s choice of the word ‘turn’ suggests another kind of conversion, definitely not salvation by God. This ‘turn’ seems to be the possibility that a heterosexual man could be forced to take a turn to homosexuality in rapacious circumstances beyond his control.

Backward rape law

At a time when the rape of women and girls is such a grievous issue in Jamaica, Potential Kidd’s lyrics cannot be taken lightly. Any suggestion that rape is an option must be condemned. But we cannot forget that men are also potential victims. The World Health Organisation defines rape as “physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration – even if slight – of the vulva or anus, using a penis, other body parts or an object”.

Not surprisingly, Jamaican law does not acknowledge this all-inclusive definition of rape. Our rather backward position is that rape is frontal abuse. The Joint Select Committee that was established to consider amendments to the Offences Against the Person Act decided that the definition of rape should not be changed.

This is how the chairman of the committee, A. J. Nicholson, put it in an RJR report on February 14, 2007, posted on the UNIFEM website: “Leave rape as it is, leave it as is. Man and woman and only in a certain way. The penalty or penalties for the other offences are all going to be severe, so it wouldn’t matter of (sic) you call it fish and chips or bread and butter, whatever name you give to it”.  A.J. Nicholson’s use of innocuous food imagery to describe grave offences against the person is just as surprising as Potential Kidd’s disturbing language of rape.

Stuck with another monopoly

Once upon a time, not so long ago, Cable and Wireless enjoyed a monopoly in the Jamaican telecommunications market. The company didn’t need to resort to dancehall culture to sell its products. Potential customers were forced to beg and beseech to get telephone service. Then came the brave new world of cellphones. That market was also monopolised by Cable and Wireless. Customers had to pay an arm and a leg for cellphone service. Finally, the monopoly was broken with the arrival of Digicel.  

Cable and Wireless, now rebranded as LIME, is holding on to less and less market share. And so, the company is desperately grabbing on to any wire to save itself. It tried to hitch on to Mr Clifton Brown’s fleeting notoriety, but still ‘canna cross it’. And now Potential Kidd’s lyrics have turned out to be not so nice.

LIME’s best dancehall bet is Damian Marley, the company’s newest ambassador. The only potential issue with ‘Junior Gong’ is a chronic Rastafari preoccupation: in the words of his father, ‘Got to have kaya now’. That’s a small price to pay in the telecommunications war. And LIME really does need to win back some of the market. Or we’ll be stuck with another monopoly. And we’ll be right back to where we started: ‘hold down an tek weh’.

Paying Tribute To Trench Town

Two Saturdays ago, Jamaicans of all social classes converged in west Kingston for the 12th staging of the Bob Marley Tribute Concert, ‘Trench Town Rock’. It was the largest crowd ever. With an entrance fee of $300, the concert was clearly designed to be inclusive. Bad as things may be for so many people in Jamaica right now, JEEP or no JEEP, most could probably afford to come to the show. No need to jump the fence.

The Trench Town concert, sponsored by LIME, was the first of two in honour of Bob Marley that were supported by our warring telecommunications companies. Digicel’s free concert was held in Emancipation Park the next day. In a clash worthy of Sting, LIME and Digicel waged a noisy battle for dominance using popular music as the weapon of choice. The clear winner of the concerted war was certainly the audience, which was very well entertained at little or no cost.

Trench Town police station

The police locked down the lengthy Trench Town tribute at about 4 a.m. I asked the senior officer on duty if anyone had complained about noise and wondered why he couldn’t have exercised discretion and allowed the show to go on. He admitted that nobody had made a complaint. It was a matter of principle. The cut-off time on the permit was 2 a.m., and he had given almost two hours’ grace. I could see his point. The organisers ought to have known that with the large number of ‘and many more’ performers on the show, they couldn’t possibly have ended at the approved hour.

Coming around like tourists

Still for all, given the extraordinary nature of the celebratory event, common sense ought to have prevailed over principle. The Bob Marley Tribute concert pays respect not only to the singer, but also to Trench Town. It brings into the legendary community visitors who would ordinarily steer clear of what they see as a dangerous place.

Damian ‘Junior Gong’ Marley mocks these outsiders in Welcome to Jamrock:

Dem only come around like tourist

On the beach with a few club sodas

Bedtime stories, and pose

Like dem name Chuck Norris

And don’t know the real hard core

The ‘tourist’/’Norris’ rhyme underscores the DJ’s disdain for tourists of all stripes – whether domestic or international – who claim to know the real hard core. Instead, they betray their ignorance. They are just posing, playing a role in a television drama. Living in a world of bedtime stories, they assume that they can always retreat to the security of their ‘safe’ homes.

Residents of Trench Town have no such illusions. They know intimately the prison of alienation in which they are forced to live. As Bob Marley puts it in Trench Town:

Up a cane river to wash my dread?

Upon a rock I rest my head?

There I vision through the seas of oppression?

Don’t make my  life a prison

Desolate places

An unidentified victim of the 2010 Trench Town massacre; photo The Guardian

The visionary Bob Marley ‘sighted’ the power of music to free the people from imprisoning stereotypes: “They feel so strong to say we’re weak.” But Marley is definitely ambivalent. He knows all too well the very real economic and political power that ‘they’ wield with great authority. So he turns his statement into a question: “Can we free the people with music?”

Salome with the head of John the Baptist, Caravaggio painting

Drawing on his knowledge of the Bible, Marley does not give in to despair. He declares: “In desolate places we’ll find our bread.” This is a reference to the story of the retreat of Jesus after he learns about the beheading of John the Baptist. It is told in Matthew 14, verse 13, English Standard Version: “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the town.”

And this is how the bread comes into the story: “Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ But Jesus said, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ They said to him, ‘We have only five loaves here and two fish.’ And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’

Patriarchal mathematics

Eurocentric image of Jesus and his followers

“Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up 12 baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.”

In the patriarchal mathematics of biblical times, only men count. If each man came with his wife and two children, the number of people fed would rise to a whopping 20,000. Add a concubine or two and that’s at least another 5,000: a grand total of 25,000, by my irreverent calculation. And there were even leftovers!

If only Sista P could look up to heaven, say a blessing and break bread that magically multiplies to satisfy the hungry crowds! She wouldn’t even need to fix the JEEP. Of course, the real miracle would be turning “another page in history”, as Marley says, and emancipating ourselves from slavish dependence on politicians to feed us.

The reggae industry, with its roots in Kingston’s concrete jungle, has unquestionably demonstrated that creativity can both free and feed the people. Cynics ask, “Can anything good come out of Trench Town?” Paying tribute to his adopted yard, Bob Marley responds with a liberating “yes!” that resonates across the globe.

Lessons from St Lucia Jazz

The producers of the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival really ought to go back to the drawing board and rethink the concept.  TurnKey Productions, the US-based company that has been staging the festival right from the start, needs to change key.

Trapped in the old Air Jamaica format of less jazz and more everything else, the rebranded jazz and blues festival rarely satisfies the discriminating taste of expectant jazz fans. The headliners for this year’s 15th anniversary production clearly illustrate the problem.  Maroon 5 are pop rock; Ron Isley is R&B; Natalie Cole is also R&B with a shimmer of jazz.  She did a magnificent set but it certainly wasn’t hardcore jazz.  Or even blues.

Morgan Heritage

By contrast, St Lucia Jazz is the real deal. True, the festival does include music in other genres.  For example, Morgan Heritage did us proud with a blistering set on the last day.  But the bill is much more jazz than anything else.  I was fortunate to catch the 20th staging of this calendar event last month.  I’d been invited to give a lecture hosted by the Open Campus of the University of the West Indies, St. Lucia.  The title we agreed on was “Islands Beyond Envy:  Liberating Nation Language in the Caribbean.”

The topic of the lecture acknowledged the artistic struggles of St. Lucian Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott to find his own voice.  In one of his essays published in 1970, the poet describes the unenviable position in which he found himself as a young man learning to master the craft of writing in a colonial backwater:  ‘I sighed up a continent of envy when I studied English literature, yet, when I tried to talk as I wrote, my voice sounded affected or too raw.’

Sounds familiar?  As our own poet of the people Mutabaruka puts it so wittily, ‘the language we write we can’t talk; and the language we talk we can’t write.’  Enslaved by envy, the juvenile Walcott at first paid little attention to the language of local verbal arts: St. Lucian Creole.  Eventually, he liberated himself by opening his ears to the sounds of street culture.

LIME’s sweet party

One of the big hits of the St. Lucia jazz festival is the free lunch hour concerts held in the square that’s named in honour of Walcott.

A large cross-section of St Lucian society, including enthusiastic high school students, turned out in huge numbers, three days in a row, to hear some of the stars of the festival perform in the day-time concert series for which LIME was the lead sponsor.

LIME seems to have had a rather sour experience with the organisers of St. Lucia Jazz.  The company was the original sponsor of the whole festival and then got displaced by newcomer Digicel. It’s a familiar tale.  Obviously, as an outsider, I don’t know the whole story.   In any case, proverbial wisdom warns that ‘cockroach no business inna fowl fight.’   But even cockroach can speculatively put two and two together.  How could Cable and Wireless, now astringent LIME, start off as a monopoly and end up as the underdog fighting to survive in a market the company once dominated? Competition is a hell of thing.

All the same, LIME certainly knows how to throw a sweet party. On the Saturday night of the festival the company hosted an event billed as ‘Rapture Theme Party.’  I hit the dance floor running.  At my lecture, I got a good joke from a man who complained that I’d stopped him and his wife from leaving the party. Since I appeared to be older than them, they couldn’t bear the thought of being outdone by a senior citizen with obviously much more stamina.  So they had to keep dancing.  ‘Mi nearly dead with laugh.’

‘Church in the jook joint’

For me, the outstanding performance of St Lucia Jazz this year was given by Regina Carter.  A ‘classically’ trained violinist, she magisterially demonstrated the eclectic fusion that is jazz is in its purest form.  I put ‘classically’ in quotes because I know that supposedly ‘classical’ music is not just European ‘art music.’  It’s simply the best of the best.

A lot of the music we now think of as ‘classical’ started life as lowly popular culture.  So it’s not about ‘class’.  It’s all about aesthetics.  No culture has the monopoly on classic music.  With or without cables, wires and all sorts of strings.

Carter’s jazz band brilliantly illustrated the harmonising of European and African musical instruments:  violin, double bass, accordion and kora.  The kora is made from half of a huge calabash covered with cowskin, with a notched bridge for its 21 strings.  The sound plucks your heartstrings.

Another memorable performance came from R&B/jazz/gospel diva Ledisi who wickedly described her set as ‘church in the jook joint.’  Her insight reminded me of James Baldwin’s witty observation in the novel Go Tell It on the Mountain that it’s hard to hear any difference between the secular music of the sinners going home from the club late Saturday night and the sacred music of the saints going to church Sunday morning.

‘Jook’ is a fascinating word.  A variant of ‘juke’ – as in juke box – the word has African origins.  The Dictionary of Jamaican English compares ‘jook’ with Fulani ‘jukka’, meaning ‘spur, poke; knock down as fruit.’  The dictionary also notes the Cameroons pidgin expression, ‘juk am’, meaning ‘pierce, prick, etc.’

     Like ‘jazz’ itself, ‘jook’ has sexual overtones. In her book Jookin’:  The Rise of Social Dance Formations in African-American Culture, sociologist Katrina Hazzard-Gordon highlights the vital role of the jook joint in nurturing the body, soul and spirit.  If we really want the Air Jamaica jazz and blues festival to ‘tek life’, TurnKey needs to jook it with a lot more jazz.

Mi find some a di missing man dem/Finding Elusive Men


Hellshire before LIME; photo Keisha DeLisser-Cole


Mi go Hellshire weh day an mi find some a di yute dem mi did a fret bout inna last week column, “Weh di eligible man dem deh?”  Di one dem weh suppose fi ready fi go a university, but dem no qualify.

So mi cyah gi a piece-a answer to di man weh email mi an seh nuff eligible man gone a farin.  Im aks mi,  “Yu have any idea wa di man dem who no qualify a do? Inna dem ya time, all puss an dawg ha fi ha degree fi fling up burger a Burger King so mi no know wa dem (no di puss an dawg  dem) woulda do, all like di middle-class one dem, weh no go no further dan high school.”

So mi a sidong inna Aunt Merle shop a enjoy mi fry fish an bammy.  An mi decide fi fast wid some yute who did a lyme side-a mi. Talk bout lyme, mi ha fi congratulate LIME fi di lovely job dem a do.  Dem a fix up some a di bruck-down hut dem pon di beach.  Yu fi see how dem pretty!


Hellshire after LIME; photo Keisha DeLisser-Cole


Mi surprise so til.  Di beach a look like Barbados!  It come een like Oistins, one fishing village inna Christ Church, weh tourist an yardie go fi cool out pon a Friday night. Every time mi go a Barbados mi seh Jamaica shoulda try fi be lickle bit more like Barbados; and Barbados shoulda try fi be lickle bit more like Jamaica.  Barbados so nice fi visit.  But mi kudn live deh.  It too organize.  Officially.  Pon di down low, dat is a next story.

LIME a brandish new lyrics, ‘Portmore, for sure.’ An a so dem a fix up Naggo Head bus park tu.  Mi kyaan believe it!  Mi did ha fi meet Scheed Cole.  Im a di mastermind weh plan out how fi fix up Hellshire an Naggo Head.  Im artistic yu see! Candace Clunie, one young woman who work pon im team, a she introduce mi to im.  She a one talented architect an a artist.  Mi meet her a work hard-hard pon di beach job.

Root a di problem

Di yute dem mi talk to a Hellshire no come from no middle-class background.  Dem belongs to di ‘working-class’ weh naa work. No work no pudong fi dem deh people.  Dem ha fi a scuffle fi mek work fi demself.  One a di yute dem run a gym inna im yard.  Im look buff, yu see.  Im naa mek no money right now, but im know seh time longer dan rope.

Plenty a di yute dem dida light up dem spliff so dem was in a good mood.  Dem humour me when mi aks dem one-one, ‘Yu still inna school or yu a work?’  All a dem seh mi coulda write down weh dem seh but mi no fi call dem name.  Not Teddy.  Im definitely did waan mi talk up di tings.

Im gi mi im boasy business card weh a bawl out inna big, bright letter:  TEDDY’S PLUMBING SERVICE, 24-HOUR SERVICE for all your plumbing needs.  Phone 855-8617.  Teddy live inna Woodford Park an im seh im business a gwaan good-good.  Im was a prentice wid a experience plumber, an den im branch out.

All a di yute dem do bad inna school.  Teddy im seh im kudn stand reading.  Im leave school wid no qualification.  A so im turn to plumbing.  Inna im spare time, im start check out computer.  An im get a big shock:  ‘A bare reading yu ha fi do pon dis?’

A so im come fi find out seh reading a no one a dem subject inna school weh yu ha fi put up wid.  Is a passport fi carry yu inna one brand new world.  So Teddy just log on.  Lyrically speaking; an fi real.  Email gi im plenty problem fi di first.  When im fren dem a aks im a how im a tek so long fi answer dem email, im ha fi admit seh im no know how fi spell some a di word.  Im gwaan lickle-lickle so til im ketch i.

‘Inna De Yard’

Chruu mi waan know a how di language dem a run jostle one anodder, mi aks Teddy wa language im use pon di computer.  Im seh if im a talk to im fren dem im talk patwa.  If im a talk to dem odder one a farin, im talk inna English.  Teddy no ha no problem fi deal wid di two language dem.  Im a no like some a dem teacher weh refuse fi accept seh a two language wi talk inna fi wi country.

Seet deh.  Teddy have nuff more sense dan Peter weh aks one ‘cute’ question pon Gleaner blog bout mi talk weh mi gi a Freiburg University:  ‘Did you lecture the Germans in Jamaican patois?’ [‘Yu did talk to di German dem inna Jamaica patwa?’]   Di German dem a tek fi language more serious dan some a wi. Andrea Moll, one graduate student a Freiburg, she a do one Ph.D. bout writing pon di Internet.  An she a study how fi language write pon www.jamaicans.com.

Mi no know a when fi wi teacher dem a go admit seh a one wicked ting  fi diss pikni heart language an a try teach dem inna one next language weh di poor pikni dem no understand.  A dem deh eedyat business a mek di bwoy pikni dem naa do so good inna school.   Di girl dem wi try work wid di programme.  But di bwoy dem dis gi up.

Mi bet yu anyting if di bwoy pikni dem, all like Teddy, did learn fi read an write inna fi dem owna language, Jamaican, dem woulda never ha no problem fi learn fi read.  An from dem learn how fi read fi dem language, dem a go learn fi read English same way.


Scheed Cole


Dem disadvantage yute shoulda follow Scheed Cole example.  Dem fi tek reading serious when dem deh a school.  Scheed come outa di inner city.  An im mek up im mind seh education a di passport fi tek im out an carry im back inna fi im community.  Hear weh im seh pon Gleaner ‘Inna De Yard’ video:   ‘If a one ting run fi mi life, a it dis:  a yu ha fi decide fi yu owna future.’









Finding Elusive Men

On a recent visit to Hellshire beach, I found some of the elusive young men I was worrying about in last week’s column, “Where are the eligible men?”  Those young men who ought to be prepared for tertiary education, but are not.

So I have a partial answer to the question I was asked by a male reader who pointed out the impact of migration on the dwindling numbers of eligible men in Jamaica:  “Any insights to share as to what they would opt out and do? Even puss and dawg need degree now to flip burger in Burger King so I cannot fathom what they (not the puss or dawg dem) would do, coming from a middle-class background, without post-secondary education.”

As I sat in Aunt Merle’s shop enjoying my fried fish and bammy, I struck up a conversation with a group of young men who were lyming close by.  And talking of lyme, I must congratulate LIME on the fantastic job they’re doing to transform some of the ramshackle huts on the beach into elegant, thatch-roofed shops.

My amazed response to the upgrading was, “What a way the place look like Barbados!”  I was reminded of Oistins, a fishing village in Christ Church that’s a popular Friday night hangout for both locals and tourists. Every time I go to Barbados I think that Jamaica should try to be a bit more like Barbados; and Barbados should try to be a bit more like Jamaica.  Barbados is so nice to visit.  But I just couldn’t live there.  It’s much too orderly on the surface.  Underground, that’s a whole other story.


Naggo Head bus park before LIME; photo Keisha DeLisser-Cole


With its new marketing line, ‘Portmore, for sure,’ LIME is also rehabilitating the Naggo Head bus park.  What a transformation! I made it my business to meet Scheed Cole, the mastermind behind both the Hellshire and Naggo Head artistic projects.  I was introduced to him by a member of his design team, the talented architect and fine artist Candace Clunie, whom I met hard at work on the beach.


Root of the problem

The young men I spoke to at Hellshire don’t come from a middle-class background.  They are part of that large group of supposedly ‘working-class’ people who simply can’t find ready-made work.  They have to be scuffling to create jobs for themselves.  One of them, who looks quite buff, runs a home-based gym.  He’s not making money yet, but he’s optimistic.

Most of the youths were enjoying a spliff and they were in a good mood.  So they humoured me as I asked them in turn, “Yu still in school or yu working?”  With one exception, they said I could report our conversation if I didn’t reveal their names.  Teddy definitely wanted me to ‘talk up di tings.’

He gave me his business card which proudly announces in bold letters:  TEDDY’S PLUMBING SERVICE, 24-HOUR SERVICE for all your plumbing needs.  Phone 855-8617.  Teddy, who lives in Woodford Park, says he’s doing quite well in his own business.  He apprenticed with an experienced plumber then branched out.

Like all of the other young men, he hadn’t done well in school.  He particularly disliked reading.  After leaving school with no formal qualifications, he turned to plumbing.  For recreation, he got into computers and had quite a shock:  ‘A bare reading yu ha fi do pon dis?’  [It’s all about reading?]

Suddenly, reading was no longer an unpleasant subject to be endured in school.  It was an essential passport to an exciting new world.  So Teddy just logged on, literally and metaphorically.  Doing email was a challenge at first.  When his friends asked how he was taking so long to answer their emails, he had to confess that he couldn’t spell some of the words. Bit by bit, he got the hang of it.

‘Inna De Yard’

Naturally, with my interest in language politics, I asked Teddy which language he uses on the computer.  He says if he’s talking to his friends he uses patwa but if he’s talking to foreigners he uses English.  Unlike many Jamaican educators who simply refuse to accept the fact that we are bilingual, Teddy is completely at ease with the idea of living in two languages.

On that score, Teddy is far more sensible than Peter who asked a ‘cute’ question on the Gleaner’s blog about my talk at Freiburg University:  ‘Did you lecture the Germans in Jamaican patois?’  The Germans are taking our language far more seriously than some of us are. Andrea Moll, a graduate student at Freiburg, is doing a Ph.D. dissertation on computer-mediated communication, focussing on data downloaded from www.jamaicans.com.

I don’t know how long it’s going to take our educators to acknowledge the fact that there’s something fundamentally wrong about ‘dissing’ a child’s mother tongue and trying, instead, to teach in an unfamiliar language.  This folly is the root of the problem of male underachievement.  Girls, who tend to be more patient learners, will try to work with the system.  Boys will just give up.

I’d bet my last dollar that if young men like Teddy were taught literacy in their mother tongue, Jamaican, they would have no problems learning to read.  Their literacy skills could then be transferred to their second language, English.


Naggo Head after LIME; photo Keisha DeLisser-Cole


Scheed Cole is an excellent role model for working-class young men who need to learn to take reading seriously while they’re still in school.  A product of Kingston’s inner city, Scheed made up his mind that education was going to be his passport out and back into his community.  As he says on the Gleaner’s ‘Inna De Yard’ video:   ‘If is one thing about my life that is a theme, is that you decide your future.’