Saturday, May 29, 2010
Rains and floods have added to the difficulties, though perhaps also contributed to quelling the uprisings, and the silver lining to the rain clouds is that there is water in abundance again, everwhere is green and lush, trees, bushes and vines are full of blossom and the air is full of butterflies of all colours and sizes.
With the uncertainty still prevalent in many of the garrisons that abutt the major thoroughfares we had been advised not to travel too far and to continue to avoid certain routes. This inspired me to look more locally for a quiet haven where I might spend Sunday afternoon and I decided upon Hope Botanical Gardens. The gardens are a large cultivated area that has been variously tended and untended over the last 200 years. Nestled in the north east of the city, it is an easy 10 minute city bus ride on the 900 up Hope Road. The mountains surround three sides of this neighbourhood which also houses Jamaica College, a venerable old educational institute that has provided for many who might not have attained higher education without the support of this specialised institution, Univeristy of the West Indies and Northern Technical University. It is at the edge of the road up into the Blue Mountains.
As with so much here Hope Gardens shows the wear and tear of the different periods at which it has been untended. The high wrought iron gates are bent and broken between the tall gate posts. There are a series of decorative water gardens at the entrance to the Gardens in which the fountains no longer run but the ponds are clean and the plants well cared for and once past the water gardens the lawns, path and trees are spectacular. There are walking paths cut though dense gullies of exotic and enormous palms of all species, pergolas covered with bouganvillaea, a water lilly pond with lillies with leaves the size of tea trays and purple, white and yellow flowers the size of dinner plates.
Vast lawns beautifully tended, green and lush after all the rain, punctuated by large numbers of trees with sprawling roots and branches perfectly designed for providing shade under which blankets should be spread on which to picnic or read. Birds, including parrots, and butterflies move from tree to tree and blossom to blossom. It is a wonderful place of peace and tranquillity in a city that offers too little of either.
I had an afternoon that restored a sense of security and provided energy for work tomorrow with the students whose lives will have been much more directly affected by the troubles.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
The week's events have generated all kinds of feelings for me, fear, anger, sadness and an enormous frustration that the potential that is this incredible country is once again being challenged. It feels remarkable that I am here as the convergence of years of dysfunction erupts into war across the city and in all the poorest and most troubled areas across the country. Although the extradition order and attempted arrest of Mr Coke have been the catalyst for the current violence they are certainly not the cause. The causes are many and complex and go back into the history and politics of this unique island that feels as if it should be paradise.
In reading the news as the drama in Kingston has unfolded this week I have been struck by the simplistic and inaccurate characterisation of what has happened here. The Prime Minister suggesting this is "an anti-drug offensive" (BBC May 25th), many others only focussing on the reason for the "offensive" being the apprehension of Mr Coke. The reality is the events of this week are the result of decades of complex and unacceptable relationships between the "bad men" and the politicians. Their interdependence has been commonly acknowledged for many years but what has emergerd in recent years is what appears to be a shift in the power from those in politics to those in crime. However, neither demonstrates any genuine concern for the true victims - the impoverished and powerless - who are forced to depend on gangsters for food, money for school and protection at an horrendous personal price, as a result of the failure of any goverment to provide for the basic needs of the communities they are supposed to serve. Both the gangsters and the politicians are determined to maintain power at whatever cost to those caught within the boundaries of their turf. This minority of warring power holders seems to be holding the country hostage.
As the week progresses it feels as if perhaps this crisis will offer an opportunity to move away from the power relationships of the last forty years though it is not evident who can make that happen or how they will get into a position to do so. What is clear is those currently in positions of political power have lost any vestige of credibility they had. If the loyalty of the people is gained by ensuring they are fed and educated as the followers of Dudus are indicating perhaps the opportunity is to pay attention to that and put in place a means of ensuring a basic quality of life that affords some dignit. Instead of enormous amounts being spent on guns, soldiers and police perhaps a modicum could be diverted to education, job creation and social assistance.
Even the weather has been unsettled this week - the afternoons bring brooding clouds moving menacingly across the sky from mountain to ocean in layers and deepening colours of grey. Torrential rain storms, thunder and lightening, the first reaction to which is "is that mortars and explosions?" And magnificent sunsets of glorious colours.
Within this city in crisis I am safe and have the reassurance of many looking out for me but the events of the week increase the sense of need to contribute something that is of value. When I return to work next week I am sure the work with the students will have a different focus, as they return from their very difficult experiences of the week.
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Sunday, May 16, 2010
In Jamaica politics always promotes opinionated discussion and this week more so. As I write this the current Prime Minister is weighing his future and that of his governing party. Mr Golding's integrity and credibility are being seriously questioned as more information comes to light about the action taken to avoid the extradition of Mr "Dudus" Coke.
Outside of politics, as the temperature rises so too does the level of violence. In a number of communities the gangs have been particularly active with drive-by shootings and reprisals directly affecting both staff and children with whom I am working. It is difficult to hear as people try to organise their lives around the difficulties in either their community or communities through which they have to pass. It feels as if things may be coming to a turning point at which changes will be demanded and strategies developed to take back some semblance of order.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
The week has seen increasing awareness of the difficulty Jamaica is in economically and socially. The Gleaner continues to publish the daily murder count which has reached over 560. This practice is generating much discussion but the dominant opinion seems to be that it is helping to appropriately raise awareness of the terrible issue of violence experienced by the poorest communities in Jamaica. It is raising questions about why the politicians and police force cannot protect people from the gangs and increasing the expectation of accountability for governing effectively. A secondary outcome is the demand that there be more transparency in politics, and there be a clear exploration of the link between politicians and organised crime.
No travels this week, though Tasha and I had a lovely afternoon ambling through Port Royal and the old Fort Charles, ending with fish at Gloria's, a local fish restuarant at which the length of time between the fish leaving the sea and getting to the table is usually less than two hours!
We did not get to see the sunken city lost to the sea in the earthquake of 1692 but it is fascinating to learn a little of the history of what was known as the "wickedest city in the world" in the 17th century.
I was sad to see Tasha off on Wednesday morning. It was wonderful having her here and felt very much as if she was "home for the holidays".
So my six weeks of visitors and visiting is over and my undivided attention will return to what I can accomplish here.