Friday, March 27, 2009

Typical Weekend - Part 1

I am often asked what life is really like in Jamaica as a returning resident. Let me relive the last week-end with you.

Friday, March 13, 2009

My wife picks me up from work (HICFoundation, where I am the President) at noon today to transport me to play in a golf tournament that will benefit the “Heart Foundation of Jamaica”. Due to the drought, the course is not in good shape because unlike Caymanas, where I am a member, Constant Springs does not have a sprinkler system. Notwithstanding the greens, the men in my foursome are good golfers and good company. I actually played well but hit one ball out of bounds and lost one in the woods that took me out of the winning circle.

After golf, Stephanie joins me at the reception and we mingle with friends and enjoy the food and spirits. In addition to the group I played with, I am particularly happy to spend some time with my favorite cousin, Errol McKenexie (Executive Vice President at Sagicor)and his son Stephen. Errol is definitely a mover and in Jamaica. He was very instrumental in introducing me to Jamaican society on my return a year ago.

We meet another couple for dinner at 7:30 pm. The “Market Place” is a wonderful development where one can choose Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, Indian or French restaurants. We chose “Habibi Latino” and enjoy the paella, although the paella is not as tasty as the one our daughter Melanie makes! The conversation is lively mostly centered on whether the inequities based on skin color in Jamaica are due to racism, classism or both. The conversation got over heated when Stephanie took great exception when some said that her "helper" was content to be a housekeeper because "she" was a good boss. No amount of reasoning could convince this person that this attitude of one of both classism and racism. I went on to explain that Stephanie is very sensitive to this issue particulary because when we were visiting Mauritius two years ago and having dinner with four Indian cardiologists, I asked why there were no Black physicians in Mauritius even though Blacks made up twenty five percent of the population? One of the Indian cardiologists had the audacity to say that Black people neither had the ambition nor are thy willing to sacrifice to become doctors. My dear wife had to be restrained. She pointed out that there were over a dozen Black cardiologists (our group) at the conference who obviously did not meet that criterion and Mauritians needed to re-evaluate their presumptions.

After dinner, we went to the home of our dear friend Sonja Allen to celebrte her birthday. We bring her a bottle of Logwood honey (indigenous to Jamaica) and enjoyed dessert. The party was particularly entertaining because another friend, Loy Robinson played the piano and we sang old time favorites together. We even recited poems that we learned as children attending school in Jamaica in the “old days”. Sonja has the most amazing friends including my Aunt Madge, and it was non-stop laughter. Stephanie and I got home at 12:30 am and she remarked that she now understood why I was always comfortable lapsing into song and dance in a crowd. It’s the culture. We very happily yielded to sleep after a long and exciting day.

Typical Weekend, Part 2

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Stephanie and I awoke at 5:30 am. My darling wife, hands me a cup of blue mountain coffee ten minutes later and I go for my morning exercise and swim. I do my exercise routine with two pound weights;(I do 100 jumping jacks, arms out; 100 jumping jacks, arms up; 100 twists (Chubby Checker Style); run in place (200); and 35 push-ups); stretching and then two laps of the pool, other pool exercises; some other fun stuff and some more stretching. Thirty minutes and I am done and feeling rejuvenated.

When I return, Stephanie had gone out and bought the morning newspaper. I am pleased that the Gleaner has published my most recent letter to the editor. I make the point that the Government should do better at supporting rather than frustrating the initiatives of their citizens, i.e. the Coconut Vendor (Jelly Man) on Norman Manley Road is being put out of business. I check my e-mail and several people who read my letter to the Editor are already congratulating and encouraging me. I hope it helps to keep the Jelly man in business.

Stephanie has become a wonderful Jamaican cook. For breakfast, she serves me achee and salt fish with dashine, yellow yam, boiled bananas, carrot juice with condensed milk and more coffee. As we are leaving for the golf course at 7 AM, I discover that I have left my garment bag by the bar at Constant Springs golf course the night before, so Stephanie drops me off and then goes to retrieve my bag. We hope the bag is still there as it contains my favorite golf shoes and other personal items. It was safely “put up” and we are very grateful.

When I arrive at Caymanas at 7:30 am, I proceed to hit balls on the range for 15 minutes with my caddy (Garth) guiding me and we meet my foursome (Steve, Peter and Errol) on the first tee and we are off at 8:00 am. My putting has been tentative so I have not been winning. While “Match play” is preferred in the United States; in Jamaica, we always play medal. In other words, one bad hole will bury you. But today, I make 7 pars and 11 bogies, nothing worse that a bogy and I win the match. I pump my fist when I drop the last putt and yell “yes!!!” I am constantly fantasizing that I am playing on the PGA tour as I walk down fairways with my personal caddy in tow. What I win is barely enough to pay the bar tab.

Stephanie has been at the pool, reading her book and joined my foursome for lunch at Noon on the veranda. I have curry goat and rice with a beer. She has stew peas and a glass of chardonnay. The waitresses like her very much and cater to all her requests. Stephanie now plays golf and if we did not have other plans, we would have played together in the afternoon.

We get home just in time to shower and dress to meet the bus that will transport us to a grand Villa in Ocho Rios for Dr. Dainia Baugh’s birthday party at 2:30 pm. We join the other 20 people on the bus for the two hour ride watching a movie. Most people order apple matinees from the “stewardess” on the bus. My preference is proof rum and coconut water. Stephanie stays with wine.

We arrive at the Cary Island Villa at 5:00 pm and we are all impressed with the grandeur of the place. We walk down to the ocean and cross a bridge that leads to a small island with pick nick facilities where we took a nap before rejoining the celebrants. The DJ and music is fantastic and we start dancing right away. I ask for my current favorite song by Taurus Riley (She’s Royal, she’s my Queen. I want her in my life. She’s a cutie. She is one of a kind. She doesn’t need make up for she is a natural beauty. I never met anyone so divine.) This is an ode to my wife.

They actually serve Johnny Walker Blue and whatever else one could desire to drink. The food is spectacular, particularly the fettuccine Alfredo, mackerel rundown and the Solomon Grundy. The party is fabulous. We particularly enjoyed our time with John Junor and his wife Urla and daughter-in-law. We get back to the dance floor and dance to socca music for an hour without stopping. Stephanie and I love dancing. She even learned some new moves. We drink some coconut water (without the proof rum this time) and went down to the pool to take another nap on the lawn chairs with the sweet music in the background. Within a half hour, we are back on the dance floor. The music stops, we sing happy birthday, extend congratulations and give Dainia a Champaign toast as she cuts her cake.

The first bus departs at 10:30 pm and we collapse in our seats exhausted and immediately fall asleep. Two hour later, we are awakened when the bus driver turns on the overhead lights and announce that we are back in the parking lot of the Heart Institute of the Caribbean. We get home at 1:00 am and remind ourselves that we must attend the funeral of our friend’s father on Sunday at 10:00 am.

Typical Weekend, Part 3

Sunday, March 15, 2009

We wake up at 7:00 am, drink my coffee, I do my morning exercise, swim a couple laps, and eat mostly fruit and yogurt for break-fast because we have been eating way too much. I read the newspaper and another one of my “Letters to the Editor” is published. I am relentless and comment about everything. I am in the throws of arranging for houses to be built, jobs to be created and health care improved for the very poor community where I grew up in St. Elizabeth.

We depart at 9:30 am for the funeral. On our way, I receive a call from Dr. Ken Jamerson (Michigan State) who wants to get together with us. I have no idea how he reached me on my Jamaican cell number and is very curious. Dr. Jamerson is in town giving a speech. He knows that I am here so asks someone he was talking with if she knew me. She responds yes and makes a call to one of the physicians at HIC and now has my number. Two degrees of separation—it is remarkable. We promise to see him after the funeral.

My friend’s father who we are funeralizing is a genuine Jamaica story about a man who traveled for extended stays around Jamaica and fathering a baby at each stop. Now in death, the children adore him for being a man for all seasons, a tailor, shoemaker, a fixer of appliances, a musician and a genuine poet. He specialized in making entire men’s outfits from the same poka dot material---hat, shirt, jacket, pants AND shoes. Only one word comes to mind seeing someone wearing that outfit: “Lard mi Gad, him Boasi sah!” Obviously if you wanted to be the life of the party, this gentleman would hook it up for you. I guess it is too late to have him put together an outfit for me.

Stephanie and I leave the funeral at 11:30 am and arrive at the function where Ken just finished speaking to a huge physician audience at the Terra Nova Hotel. The Novartis representatives did a great job bringing physicians from all over Jamaica to hear the learned and renowned Dr. Ken Jamerson speak about treating high blood pressure in 2009 discouraging them from prescribing diuretics. When I arrive, I said hello to several familiar faces and make my way through the line of physicians who are waiting to have “a word” with the great Dr. Jamerson. On seeing Stephanie and I, he excuses himself and we hug warmly and I am genuinely delighted to see my old friend. I am flattered that he agrees to change his plans to leave a day later so we could spend some quality time together. Stephanie is actually leaving the island today for the US, so we take our leave for the airport and Stephanie’s 2:15 departure on American Airlines. After I see the love of my life off, I go back to our place, pick up my extra set of golf clubs and head to the hotel to pick up Ken. There is a beauty pageant going on and the lobby is full of Jamaica’s finest.

When we arrive at Caymanas Country Club, Ken said he was impressed with the warm welcome I received from Caddies, employees and members. Without a tee time, we get dressed and head for the first tee. It is a perfect 75 degrees, the birds are singing, the gentle breeze caresses us, the golf course need some water but otherwise is in perfect condition. My caddy hands me my driver, I hit the ball down the middle, hit the second shot on the green and make my par. Ken has challenges including four shots to get out of the bunker even with instructions from his caddy. We agree not to keep score.

In Jamaican terms: “Long time now mi never see yu. Come let wi walk and talk” is the agenda for the day. We make our way around the golf course catching up, solving all the problems of Jamaica and the world. Ken is really a man of the world who knows history. In other words, he is excellent company. We are on the same wave length. He is surprised that he could walk the five miles around the course and not get tired. I tell him that at 66 years old, I usually walk two rounds on the same day.

When we arrive at the 19th Hole (the restaurant) and join six other friends and they offer to buy us drinks and welcome him in grand style. We enjoy a special snack made with salt fish and onions. It is delicious and we have a jolly time. When they discover that Ken is the authority on hypertension, they all get their questions answered but in particular, Ossie is concerned that his doctor is treating him for low blood pressure because he has orthostatic hypotension and faints occasionally. He is relieved to hear that he should just learn to stand up slowly and that his low blood pressure should not concern him in the absence of a medical condition causing it.

Our next stop is to give Ken a tour of the HIC facilities where I work. He points out that an echo cost $1,600 in Michigan. Our cost is consistently about 25% of what it cost for similar procedures in the United States. I explain our philosophy of not turning away anyone even though they cannot afford to pay, develop health tourism as well as keep money in Jamaica by providing the medical care here rather than have Jamaicans spend these large sums over seas. Dr. Ernest Madu is a wonderful humanitarian who is the visionary behind this centre.

We go back to the Jamaica Hilton where Ken is staying and have dinner by the pool and listen to the fabulous “Dwight Pinkey Band” and the lady sings the blues and everything else. They are very good. I request that they sing “She is Royal” and they oblige. I recommend that Ken purchase the CD for his wife when he gets to the airport. Stephanie is always delighted when I sing this song to her.

I say good night to Ken and arrive home at 10:00 pm. I call my wife to make sure she arrived safely, assure her of my love for her and then write these notes. When I am away from Jamaica, wata come a mi eye.

Following the Heart

I recently had the honor to be written up in the newsletter of my alma mater.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Jamaican Joke

One of the delightful experiences I have enjoyed in the past year is having dinner and drinks with good friends and exchanging "jokes". In my travels, my wife reminds me often that jokes are culturally based and the nuances at times do not cross cultural barriers. However, all you patois speaking expatriates of the diaspora will appreciate this little joke.

Two Jamaican couples were driving in Canada and hit the jackpot! Unbeknownst to them, there is a safe driver program in Canada that rewards safe drivers. The police will pull drivers over and reward them with a thousand dollars if the driver is observed demonstrating good driving habits. The officer puts on his sirens and flashing lights and the Jamaican driver appropriately pulled over.

The officer approached the driver and instead of a traffic ticket, congratulated the driver on being selected for the safe driving award. "What are you going to do with the money?" asked the officer. The driver, having recently immigrated from Jamaica responds in his bet patois "I am going to try and get my drivers licenses sir." The driver's wife piped in:"Sir, he is only saying that because he is drunk".

The gentleman in the back seat then asked the officer for some information:"Sir, we are all illegal aliens and trying to get to the American border before dark, so we won't be in Canada long. Are we on the right highway to get to the US border". Finally, the lady in the back seat said: "Is ganja possession illegal in Canada?"

The officer continued to smile and nod his head acting as if he understood each word that was spoken and finally said: "You know, I never could understand the Jamaican accent and the cute way you all speak but have a nice day and enjoy your money!"

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Jelly Man of Norman Manley Highway

This is an editorial that appeared in The Gleaner on March 14, 2009. It concerned an attempt by the Jamaican government to close down a very hard working man who sells jelly coconut on Norman Manley highway as you leave the Kingston Airport. I titled it "Frustrating the poor, hard-working Jelly Man".

I am appalled by our government's callous disregard for citizens who show initiative. We seem to purposely and even go out of our way to frustrate the ambitions of our poor and downtrodden.

It is apparent to me that law-abiding people who want to do honest work and get by are always the brunt of government sanctions.

Imagine four men from an inner-city area: one picks up a gun and becomes a nightmare to our community; one annoys us with his constant begging. The third tries to sell jelly coconuts by the side of the road and is doing well. We should hope that one of them find work, pays his taxes, obeys the laws of the land and supports his family.

The gunman is living the high life with car, house and all the female companionship he can handle. The beggar is getting by but through the deliberate bad mindedness of some government bureaucrat, the Jelly man and his customers are now defined as criminals for buying and selling coconuts along the Norman Manley Highway by the airport.

As a society, we rob some of our citizens of an education and job skills; we rob of them of health care and we rob them of opportunity and a means of making a living.
If a professional person is stopped on the road for a traffic offence, he is often directed to proceed without a citation. When a poor man in an old beat-up car is stopped, his car is searched and he will definitely get a citation that he cannot afford to pay. The injustices are all around us.

Whenever I leave the airport, even if I am just dropping someone off, I look forward to stopping for a jelly coconut. I get to ask the Jelly Man "Wha guaan?", have a little conversation, drink the refreshing water (too bad the jelly man does not have a little proof rum to go with it), love the jelly that I scoop up with a piece of the husk and delight in the fact that I live in God's country. I have now been stopped from enjoying this little piece of heaven as it is now deemed illegal for me to stop and enjoy this little respite.

Why couldn't we have institutionalized this initiative by making it an attraction and creating a lovely lay-by? Creating a welcome center would be perfect. Why must we always frustrate the ambitions of people who are trying to make an honest living? And if the government does offer this opportunity, I hope the Jellyman will gladly help to support our country by paying his taxes.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

An Invitation for You To Become a “Community Health Advocate”

Ten years ago when I was the CEO of the Association of Black Cardiologists, I pioneered the Community Health Advocates program as a way of motivating non-medical, faith-based organizations and individuals to help reduce the ravages of cardiovascular disease in their communities.

Even if it is just discouraging our family and friends not to eat bacon and doughnuts and walk with them around the block, I am convinced that everyone can make a contribution. Never miss an opportunity to give a little pep talk to your church, your club, your family. We must encourage each other to live healthy lifestyles. It is never too early or too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle so that children will know their grandparents and become great grandparents themselves.

Give yourself the title of a “Community Health Advocate” and immediately transform yourself into someone who makes things happen in your community. Make up a name tag and proudly adopt this title. Introduce yourself as: “I am Tom Jones, A Community Health Advocate.” It is a shortcut to becoming passionate and sincere about helping others. You will find yourself with a purpose for living with zeal and dedication—and to truly become an agent of change. In fact, President Obama and his adminsitration is calling for Community Health Advocates and forums nationwide. A few of these Advocates were highlighted at the White House Health summit on 3/5/09!

This willingness to take on challenges and these preparations are essential in all aspects of life. As noted by author and speaker Joyce Meyer, "Even if you are in a waiting season of your life, keep your motor running and be ready to go forward as soon as you get a green light." Put another way, you will never know the joy of hitting a home run in baseball or a six in cricket, if you don't step up to the plate and take a swing. Although you may strike out or bowl out, it is the score that people will remember. This is your turn at bat. Don’t just stand there take charge of your life, the life of your family and the life of your community.

I assume all of you have seen the civil rights documentary Eye on the Prize. In one scene, minister and civil rights activist C.T. Vivian led a dozen people in a historic moment by leading them in the simple act of registering to vote. As he ascended the stairs of the Birmingham, Alabama, courthouse, he was stopped by no other than Sheriff Bull Conner, who told him in no uncertain terms that he was not entering the courthouse. As the conversation ensued, Conner reached back and hit Dr. Vivian with his fist, knocking him all the way to the bottom of the stairs and thought that would be the end of that. But Dr. Vivian jumped up and again rushed up to Conner, who, disbelieving Vivian's courage, stepped out of the way so the first African Americans in Alabama could register to vote. Is there a C. T. Vivian among you ready to address the scourge of healthcare disparities?

Ladies and gentlemen, each and every day, whether it is the United States or Jamaica, too many people die from heart disease and stroke. These people are your parents, your grandparents, your uncles and aunts, and even your children.

Cardiovascular disease is the thief that is stealing our loved ones. It is the thief that will claim the lives of half of us if we don't act quickly. I am appalled that a disease that is preventable is a silent killer. It ought to make you angry that Uncle Albert, Mother Blake, and Rev. Simmons died prematurely—and they did not have to, if they had just adopted a healthy lifestyle.

I have been told that every time you do a good deed, you give birth to a new guardian angel and every time you act self-absorbed, do things half-hearted, and every time you say "whatever," you lose an angel. How would you like to have a lot of angels in your corner? This could be your path.

My grandmother raised me, and on occasions when I did things to make her proud and happy, she would say that I could bring a little bit of heaven down to earth. Lately, I have been admitting to this gift because I now recognize that heaven is not a place we go to after we are dead and it's not "up there" somewhere— heaven is inside every well-meaning person, especially those who volunteer to work in their communities as "Community Health Advocates." You see, heaven is in the heart.

Martin Luther King, Jr told us that we can all be great because we can all serve. He said that "if a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will pause to say,’ here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.'" If we want to be considered great, we have to serve, and the true path to joy is to serve others. Don't live to get; live to give. Do your duty because it is the right thing to do.