Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ode to Woodlands District, Jamaica

Here where the sun shines
And cool breeze whines
Through mango trees and weeping willows
Sweet dreams on soft feather pillows
Friends big up each other with "respect", "mawnin" and "irie"
Memories to fill a lifetime diary

Stains on my shirt from star apple and jack fruit
Custard apple, carrot juice and beer from ginger root
Jankonoo, duppy stories and nine night wakes
Breadfruit, bammy and black wedding cakes
Baptism before the cricket match at New Pon
Herbie Arnold playing the guitar with the rhumba band, ya mon!

Here is my boyhood home
Unhampered space and gullies to roam
Gifted me pride and an ounce of courage
A taste for run punch, sorrel and cornmeal porridge
Curry goat, escovitched fish, rice and peas, ackee and cod
Woodlands District, Jamaica, gave me my God!

B. Waine Kong

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sports Day at Springfield All Age School: Saturday, March 29, 1958

My Big Day
B. Waine Kong

The biggest day of the school year when I was a boy was always “sports day”. The entire community would come out to watch the students compete. Mass Claudie McDonald, Mass. Harry Chen See and Mass. Lyn Salmon, the local shop owners contributed the prizes. The vendors selling cakes, sweetie, (candy) coconut drops, grater cake, ice cream, cane and cane juice, jellies and aerated water, patties and jerk pork were ever present and created a festive atmosphere. I especially liked the cakes Miss Hibert made. Each “House” (team) actually built a house with bamboo and coconut leaves and we spared no expense decorating.

The student body was divided into four “Houses”. I belonged to "Punctuality House" and Mrs. Joyce Chang, the wife of the Head Master, Mr. Clifford Chang, was the teacher/advisor. She was a no-nonsense type of person who made liberal use of the strap. When she called on us, we would start rubbing the cow-witch that we carried in our pockets to deaden the sting of that strap. I was elected captain of my house and was responsible for assigning the competitors for each event.

In addition to the sign over the door to the school house that reads: "Aim High and Smile", the other houses were: Politeness, Perseverance and Honesty. How is that for values to build character? The teacher advisers were Mr. Tomlinson, Ms. Nation, and Ms. Mavis Smith, the sweetest, most attentive and most caring teacher we ever had. She was the only teacher who we all loved and obeyed completely without the use of a guava stick or leather strap. I don't recall that she ever even raised her voice.

In addition to the team sports, each house entered two students for the individual events. I recall that on one occasion we were playing volleyball and I got upset that my team members were not being as focused as I wanted them to be, so I yelled at them to “stop playing!” So they all walked off the field. Big joke.

While I did not experience it as such at the time, I must have been an active if not popular student. I read Bible passages at Springfield Moravian church, participated in the school and church plays and talent shows, represented the school reciting poetry at “Festival” and was an officer in the Boy’s Brigade. I was on the Boys Brigade cricket team and still remember the thrill of hitting the one accidental six I ever hit. It is simply amazing that every time I watch cricket, I remember hitting that six and can go through the motions and demonstrate for you how I did it.

1958 was a big year for me. When I showed Mrs. Chang a design I had drawn with crayons, she and the students in her sewing class made the flag just as I designed it. It was a proud moment to see my design flying on the flag pole on sports day as the official flag of the school. I was also the sergeant at arms for the ceremonial marching of the four houses. I would yell as loud as I could: “Punctuality House, March!” “Honesty House, halt!” “Perseverance House, right turn!” “We will now sing “God save our Gracious Queen” and said the prayer. Then it was fun and games.

The events were:
1. Jump rope
2. high jump
3. 100 yards
4. 220 yards
5. 440 years
6. 880 yards
7. potato race
8. egg and spoon race
9. sack race
10. volley ball
11. net ball
12. two legged race
13. relays
14. Tug of war

Winners of each event received a gift (pen, wallet, various balls, handkerchief, hat, pen knife and sometimes even money.) Not only did my house (Punctuality) win, I was crowned the boys champion.

You see, I was determined to beat my rivals (Lynval Coke, Hiram Woodstock, Lloyd Saldiba, Lloyd Biset, Frank Samuels, Blanford Roy Robinson and Sylvester Mair). I was competitive even then. Inspired by the poem I had memorized: “While their companions slept were toiling upward in the night”, a month before sports day, I marked out a track on our property at home with “White wash” and un-noticed by anyone, I practiced every morning and evening. I was ready. It probably helped as well that I ran wearing sneakers (puss) while almost everyone else went barefoot. I won four running events as well as the egg and spoon race as I had hard boiled my egg so it no break when it drop. The last event of the day was the jump rope contest and I was tied with Sylvester who won the high jump and some of the running events. I was the only boy who had enough nerve to enter this traditionally female event, so Eileen Robinson and I represented Punctuality House, won the event and won the day!

I found it strange that in my moment of glory as I was explaining to Granny how my strategy paid off, she though it was selfish of me and that if I was ever going to be a leader, I would have to be less concerned about my own success and focus more on promoting the interests of others. At that point in my life the point was lost on me. My enthusiasm was not to be deterred. It still felt good to win.

Soon after that, a magician came to the school and the charge to see the show was one shilling per person. Granny agreed to take us and my brother and I were all excited about seeing the magic tricks. We lined up behind a woman who was arguing with the door guy, trying to take four excited children with her but only had three shillings. Granny pretended that the woman had dropped two shillings and said: "Miss Beckie, I think you dropped some of your money. The children excitedly picked up the two shilling and were all able to go in. The problem was that having done that, we didn't have enough to see the show ourselves and walked back home disappointed. It was a long time later that I appreciated the experience and the lesson.

Anyway, what ever happened to that shield (plaque) with the names of the sports champions that was conspicuously displayed at Springfield School? If you find it, Erma Campbell and Basil Kong will be engraved on it for 1958.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Claudie and Myra's Surprise

What the tief overlooked
B. Waine Kong

Aunt Myra and Uncle Claudie McDonald were shop keepers in Woodlands District, St. Elizabeth and hired a helper (Rupert) to keep the yard clean, tend to the small home garden and do other handyman type work as needed. Rupert had his sights on much bigger things in life and needed money to invest in a business. Rather than work and save, beg or borrow, he decided to steal the funds.

He often observed Mass Claudie bringing each day’s take in a small grip (cashbox) up to the house each evening after closing. So, he set his sights on stealing the grip and making his escape.

One evening, around 6:00 pm, Rupert had the gumption to quietly and stealthfully made his way into the McDonald’s bedroom and hid under the bed. This was not difficult as the doors to the house were never locked and as a trusted employee, Rupert had ample access to the house. He didn’t want to hurt anyone just to grab the grip when Claudie and Myra fell asleep around 9:30 pm and quietly make his escape. He reasoned that Mass Claudie was so rich, he wouldn’t even miss that little bit of money and it would give Rupert his start.

When Claudie and Myra came home that faithful evening, they placed the grip conspicuously on their bureau (dresser), washed up, changed into their night clothes and went to bed. When Claudie heard snoring, he jucked Myra and asked if she was asleep already as he was in the mood. Myra responded,“It no me”. whereupon they realized that someone was sleeping under their bed. Poor Rupert never anticipated that he would fall asleep if he laid under the bed with nothing to do for several hours.

Claudie got the broom and hit Rupert a few times, cussed him and chased him out of their house. Rupert left the village and never returned and we have been laughing about this ever since.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Message to My Children on our Heritage

Your Jamaican Heritage: A Message to My Children and All Who Come After
Basil Waine Kong

My Dear Children, a part of me lives in each of you. I hope my life experience enriches your life as well. My belief is that culture, relationships, experience, education and upbringing is like a field with both flowers and weeds growing in the same rich soil. Both are available and our choice to make. While you can chose to water and nourish the weeds and weed the flowers, our challenge is to continuously forsake the weeds and fertilize the flowers. With a nod to our background, if we pursue education, enlightenment and character, your life will be a beautiful bouquet that will enrich the lives of everyone around you. Flowers will not refuse to bloom because of a few inevitable weeds invade your flower bed.

Our culture is our light as well as our mirror. If you fill your life with good things, only good experiences will manifest themselves. I try to seduce and entertain all my senses each day. So, I see great works of art produced by God as a sunset,a rainfall or a rainbow; and man’s great achievements in our architecture, language and innovations; smell the fragrances of flowers, feel the textures of every thing about me including my wife’s embrace, listen to a variety of music and the voices of my children and grandchildren, enjoy interesting food and spirits, and use my sixth sense to wonder, to contemplate, to think deeply about what is possible.

While our family genetics hale from Africa, Europe, China and Japan, because of the name I inherited from my father and some oriental features, the Chinese part of us seems to loom large and well out of proportion to their contribution given that none of us have ever had a meaningful relationship with any Chinese relatives, friends or even acquaintances in my 66 years.

As a background, you need to understand that in Jamaica, a single woman, having given birth to a child is free to assign any surname to her progeny. A woman can pick out the most handsome and successful man in her community, in other words, the “Big Man in Town” and name her son “Little Big man” or “Little man” even if they had never met each other. I heard of a case not too long ago where a woman was impregnated by a plumber who was contracted to do some soldering at the house where she worked as a helper. She neither knew his name of how to get in touch with him so she named her son “Alton Plumber”. Eighty five percent of our children born in Jamaica are born to single women.

My mother’s roots for all intent and purposes go back to Woodlands District in St. Elizabeth which Kingstonians refer to as “bush” or if they were generous called us “country”. During my mother’s time, as well as mine, it was and is still one of the most impoverished places in Jamaica. The roads are virtually impassible. But now, however, there are ten automobiles in our community, everyone has cell phones and some even have Internet access.

We were only 20 miles from the Ocean and I saw the Ocean for the first time when I was about ten years old and actually put my feet in seawater at about 12 years old. Bodies of water is abundant but less than 10% of the population can swim. On these very rare trips to the ocean, my grandmother would give me a bottle to bring back sea water so she could rub it into her arthritic knee. Sea breeze, sea water and sea food were all perceived to have medicinal value. In my mother’s time, there were no paved roads, no running water, sewage, electricity, newspaper, radio or television in Woodlands.

While we had soft feather pillows from the chickens we slaughtered, I slept on a mattress filled with dried banana leaves and hung my three outfits on nails above the bed (one for church, my karkie uniform for school and yard clothes). It was a serious offense if I played in my church clothes.

Although a truck or a car came through our district about every other day, no one in our district owned an automobile. Each time a vehicle came through, all the children would instinctively chase after it like puppies and considered it a treat when we could actually touch it. If it stopped, we would marvel at its instruments and for days after would pretend that we were driving it by sitting on a log, steering a pretend steering wheel and making all the appropriate sounds of a car with our mouths. We were all speed racers.

I marvel at the change in our safety consciousness. Today, our children are locked in child safety seats in highly engineered cars with every safety feature imaginable. When we took trips, we stood up in the open truck with the wind in our faces. If we took off fast, we could jerk backwards and if we stopped too fast, we would crash into each other, particularly the ones in the front. While you may only drink bottled water, we drank water from the same pond where the cows also refreshed themselves.

When I taught each of you to ride a bicycle, You were already riding a tricycle and when I bought a bicycle for you, I put on training wheels and held on to the back of the seat up and down the street until you were experts at it. I think you even wore helmets. When I learned, they put me on the seat and pushed me down a long hill without even telling me how to use the brakes. In one hair raising minute, I could maintain my balance and ride it back up the hill---no big deal. Did I ever tell you how I learned to swim?

Several innovations and improvements occurred while I was a child. My uncle Claudie McDonald and my Aunt Myra brought a radio in 1955 which was powered by a car battery and the antennae was hoisted to the top of a tall tree. We could get three stations, BBC, one from New Orleans and the other, the Jamaican Broadcasting Company (JBC). The entire community would gather round to listen to Cricket matches and celebrate the exploits of famous Jamaican cricketers, Gilchrist, Ramadin and Valentine. Aunt Myra also bought a stove and refrigerator that were both powered with kerosene. During the Manley Administration, electricity was made available in rural areas like ours even though the people in our district were “staunch” Labourites.

And still we rise. Out of these impoverished circumstances, I personally know two physicians, five lawyers, a dozen accountants and a plethora of financially successful people who emerged from these humble beginnings to own businesses. Most of the population were and are still small farmers.

My immediate neighbor, Mr. Garnett(Lloyd) Myrie, is the epitome of this success. He was precocious in his youth and got into a lot of fights regarding his black power rhetoric that earned him the reputation of a “bad boy”. After his stint as a soldier, he founded a security company (MICA Security). As a superb businessman, he now employs a thousand people and has become wealthy as well as generous. While he has offices and homes throughout Jamaica, he never squanders an opportunity to help the people of Woodlands, Donagal, Brighton and Springfield as a PNP man. We have joined forces and fully intend to help raise the standard of living for people who live in these communities. He is the only man I know who is as sentimental about these communities as I am.

I pause to tell you that Jamaicans have a greatly inflated sense of importance and power. I will cite two examples to explain this phenomenon. The story is told of some Jamaican gentlemen who were discussing strategies for the economic development of Jamaica. One proposal that they considered was to declare war on the United States like the “Mouse that Roared” where the United States would destroy the country but would build it back up like they did for Japan. But one of the gentlemen was visibly skeptical about the plan and finally asked, “So what if Jamaica win?”

During World War 11, there was a popular Jamaican calypso song that went like this:
“Someone tell me Hitler bad, te raw raw boom; But mek him come a Jamaica if him bad, ti raw raw boom; We would lick him, kick him, cut him throat, poison the brute and bun him up; Ti rite rite raw raw boom. War O, war O, war in Europe, yes I know.”

Interestingly, this sense of power is not unfounded. If there was a track meet between the best of the United States and the best of Jamaica, undoubtedly, Jamaica would prevail. Planet earth is 14 billion years old; about seventy billion people have lived here. Jamaica has the fastest man (Usain Bolt) who has ever lived as well as the second fastest (Asafa Powell) that ever lived. The three fastest women on earth are Jamaicans and Jamaica, with less than 3 million people, came in second in the World Games in Berlin in 2009 and won more medals at the Olympic Games than the entire South America and India put together (2.5 billion). The most popular musician (Bob Marley) and Jamaica’s influence on western music is legendary. Jamaica is a brand. If you put the names of countries on tee shirts and sold them to the world, the Jamaican shirts would sell out first. Jamaica has style.

My mother (Violet Ursula McKenzie), was the fifth of fourteen children born to the union of William McKenzie and Rosella McFarlane, both half African and half Scottish. St. Elizabeth is well known for the Scottish influence as they owned the fertile plantations for which that part of the country is famous. St. Elizabeth continues to be the breadbasket of Jamaica. In the old days, I am told that successful Jamaican gentlemen would aspire to marry a pretty woman from St. Elizabeth. My mother was such a beauty.

1923, at the tender age of 15, my mother was sent off by her mother to live with her older sister Myrtle, who lived on ”Love Lane” to find work in “Town”. Kingston was practically the only place where one could find a job at that time as everyone in rural Jamaica were small cultivators (beef, chickens, pigs, cabbage, peas and beans, carrots, sugar cane, fruits or worked on sugar/rum plantations). My mother’s obligation was to find work and send money back to country. She walked into Chan Kong’s ice cream parlor on Water Lane and asked for a job and was hired on the spot.

Do you ever wonder why you can get “Chinese Food” in any city of the entire world? According to Mr. Clarence Kong, who was a friend of my father, my father and his brother Victor and their families came to Jamaica after the invasion of China by the Japanese about 1938. The Kongs, meaning “Large River”, comes from Southern China, the Hakka people or Han Chinese. They were the gypsies of China who moved frequently to get away from trouble (famine and invading armies) or to find economic opportunity. The first Chinese came to Jamaica in 1854 just after slavery was abolished in 1834, 30 years before President Lincoln abolished slavery in the United States. It is worthy of note that, Queen Victoria purchased all the slaves in Jamaica at prevailing prices and set them free whereas the abolition of slavery in the United States was by proclamation. The consequence of this is that American slave owners resented the “taking” of their property and continued to think that they still owned Black people.

When Jamaican slaves were freed, they went to the most remote areas of the island to guarantee that they would never be enslaved again. So, part of what has contributed to the poverty of the descendants of slaves is that they continue to occupy property that did not appreciate in value like ocean front or flat fertile property. They went to the hills where they could see soldiers coming. In fact, they preferred if there were no easy access to where they lived. When some of them tried to negotiate for a living wage, the white plantation owners balked and brought in Indians (Coolies), Syrians, Jews and Chinese workers who provided cheap labor for five years of indentured servitude after which they were to be given passage back home with their savings. Some Chinese were forcibly taken from China and put on boats bound for the new world so this practice was memorialized as being “Shanghaied”.

Not many Chinese went back to China having tasted the “good life” in Jamaica but established themselves as “Shop-keepers” and commercial traders. They were, nevertheless strangers in an ocean of black people who teased them for eating dogs (China nam dog) and for wearing “oil skin” (silk).

My Aunt Myra was the sixth child of my grandparents who was married to Mass Claudie, the Big Man in Woodlands. They had four children (Monica, Melvis, Carlen and Donovan). Mass Claudie also fathered Las, Presley and Delroy. My brother Earl and I usually made up the group known as “the Pickney dem”.

Our Sunday routine was very predictable. We would wake up as soon as the Roosters crowed, wash up, have tea and bread and on special occasions, “a hunk of cornpone”. This was a wonderful type of corn based pudding made with condensed milk with plenty of raisins (currants) and pieces of coconut. It was baked in a Dutch Pot (from Holland) with hot coals on top as well as on the bottom. “What is hell on top, hell on the bottom and hallelujah in the middle?”

It is also worthy of note that all hot drink in Jamaica is called "tea". So you can have coffee tea, coco tea and even fish tea (soup). Unlike the United States, we have no set menu for breakfast. We are known for having dinner for breakfast. Stephanie and I were invited to breakfast and our neighbors served vegetable soup. She had to beg for coffee.

By 8:30 am on Sundays, we would be off to Sunday school that started at 9:30 am. Church started at 11:00 and ended at 1:00 pm. Granny not only had her special bench that no one else would dare occupy and would always had paradise plums, bust-mi-jaw and mints to keep us awake during boring sermons. We never missed church in all my childhood. Going to church was automatic.

We would eat the same thing for dinner every Sunday: Brown stew chicken, rice and peas. Menus in Jamaica are pretty well set for the week. On Fridays, butcher day, we would eat organ meats. Saturday is soup day, etc.

After Sunday dinner, Granny, my brother Earl and I would walk about a quarter mile to Uncle Claudie and Aunt Myra’s Big House. By the time we would arrive, if "Iceman" had ice, she would have the ice cream bucket all set for the boys to turn. For an hour, the boys would turn that bucket with rock salt and pieces of ice. Aunt Myra specialized in two flavors: run raisin and grape nut. The ice cream was ready when it just could not be turned any more. Everyone would gather around as Aunt Myra would unhook the latches, take off the turning contraption and take the cover from the aluminium cylinder to expose the creamy goodness. The palette was awarded to the boy who worked the hardest turning the bucket and it was usually me. Oh what a joy that was to lick the palette clean to the envy of all the other Pickney dem. Granny was served first and she loved ice cream. So, she got a large serving.

Some Sundays, instead of ice cream, Uncle Claudie would make cane juice or coconut water and coconut jelly with a sprinkling of sugar. Other treats included carrot juice and sweet milk, sour sop juice and sweet milk, and my favorite custard apple and sweet milk.

Sweetened condensed milk would make everything taste good. In fact, if no one was looking, we would just turn the condensed milk upside down and drink it directly from the can. We could mix it with water and put it into whatever tea we were drinking. I don’t think we actually put it in fish tea but we slobbered it over cakes, breads, and buns.

The other versatile food item is salt fish. I believe I heard that Jamaica is the number one consumer of salt cod. It goes well by itself, as a fritter, with eggs, with ackee, callaloo and boiled into yams, potatoes, dashine, coco, bananas to flavor these ground items.

When I was growing up, Woodlands was a thriving community of 500 people ---all farm hands and laborers. We had a cricket team lead by Captain Mills that competed with other communities, Saturday night dances with Herbie Arnold’s rhumba band and weekly shows where the children of the community would show off their talent (telling jokes, reciting poems, singing songs, reciting Bible passages, telling Big Boy stories and riddles). The audience always thought it was novel to have these two half Chinese Pickney reciting poems and dancing. We even told Mutt and Jeff jokes that we got from reading comic books. No one knew that we were poor because no one went hungry, we always had fruits, vegetables and the meals were excellent. Very little meat was served.

My fondest memory was that we all brought something to school for lunch---a coco, dashine, a piece of yam, green bananas, and those who did not bring ground provisions would contribute a little money (Thur-pence) that would buy a piece of chicken, pork or beef. The cook would throw it all into a big community pot and make a stew. We would all be served from the pot and a very small piece of meat would be placed on top of the food that we called the soldier man. The same Big pot would be used reduce cane juice to wet sugar that was a great treat especially when mixed with ginger. Unfortunately, an antique dealer came to Woodlands in 2008 to buy "the old things" and someone sold them the "Big Pot". Our legacy will be lost little by little.

When anyone from Woodlands had to go to Kingston, they would usually have to walk to Mocho to catch a bus or go to Ipswitch to catch a train. As no one had a clock or a watch, we depended on the sun a great deal. It was not unusual to arrive at Mocho to meet the bus and find out that we were two hours early. But never mind, time is not important. After all, we were just Country Bumpkins. One of the wonderful songs about people like to tease us about was the gentleman who went to help build the Panama Canal in Colon. With his great wealth, he bought six watches and wore all of them on both arms. The problem was that he could not tell time. So, if you asked him for the time, he would still have to look upon the sun.

Some of the interesting things about how we speak is that any part of the body below the pelvic region is your "foot" and any part of your limbs below the shoulders is your "hand". We love to repeat words for emphasis. "Rock stone", "cry eye water", "mad crazy", "reverse back", "rain shower" and "lamb meat". We do not have very in our language. So, we just repeat the word as many times to emphasize how serious we are. I can be sick or I can be sick, sick, sick, sick. If someone in Jamaica ask you for a "drive", we are not asking to drive your car just to get a ride. While Americans emphasize results, Jamaicans reward effort. Instead of "get dressed", we say "put on your clothes". In the United States, we wash coffee beans before we put them out t dry. In Jamaica, "we swim them." Farmers are planters. A rest stop is a "lay by" and a speed bump is a "sleeping policeman". A bright student is "bulby" as in a bright light bulb. If you want the driver to go faster, you would say "speed up" and Jamaicans say "mash (the gas pedal) e flat" putting the emphasis on the action rather than the desired outcome. You do not hang out clothes to dry, you put them out to sun. It is no big deal for the son from a wealthy family to succeed but we celebrate Horatio Alger stories of a phoenix rising from the ashes. We value remarkable effort regardless of the outcome. A Jamaican will not say "I don't know" or "I cannot do something". He or she will at least tell you something else that he knows. "I cannot tell you how to get to Woodlands but if you wanted to go to New Market..." And we will try to do anything as nothing defeats failure like a try.

The point is that I believe I have had a rich and extremely happy life. I have traveled extensively and enjoyed a variety of experiences that I could not have imagined as a child. I can, however, find the seeds of my personality as well as my discontent in Woodlands. Wherever I may roam, my affections hearkens back to this very small corner of the world that nurtured me.

I heard a Jamaican writer (Tony Winkler)from Atlanta tell the story of a gentleman who left Jamaica when he was fifteen years old and had gone on to receive a wonderful education and accumulated great wealth. He was explaining to the writer that even though he was born in Jamaica, he had no wish to ever return. In fact, he said, he hated the place. It is dirty. Jamaicans are slack, have no respect for human life, too much poverty, extremely reckless drivers,high illiteracy and illigitimacy and on and on. As the writer patiently listened, the plane suddenly jerked and dropped a hundred feet to which the hater exclaimed: “Rass”. You will never get the Jamaican out of me or you. It is in your blood.

Educating the Powerless in Jamaica

The Dismal State of our Public Education
B. Waine Kong

What is the difference between a housekeeper and a doctor? In many instances in Jamaica, its one generation. Against all odds, through mentoring, education, perseverance, taking advantage of opportunities abroad and focused individual effort, some rise up from poverty and achieve greatness. But no one succeeds under only his or her own steam. Whenever I hear someone say they achieved through hard work, I always ask: "Whose hard work?" It really does take a village to nurture a contributing member of society. Education is the vehicle in which the privileged transfer privilege and the lack of education is also the vehicle in which we transmit poverty, powerlessness and frustration from one generation to the next. This I believe: "Enlightenment through learning is the only way to improve our condition."

For the aficionados of cricket, do you know the intent of a “Test Match”? I am told by knowledgeable sources that it was a test of loyalty to the crown. Operatives were strategically placed in the crowd to identify people who applauded the English team and criticized the Jamaican team. In other words, only those who identified with the oppressor were chosen to be educated and offered leadership opportunities. So, our government and educational institutions became overwhelmed with those who celebrated the ways of the British and devalued anything Jamaican as butto (Bantu). It didn’t matter how smart, skillful, eloquent and charismatic you were, if you did not speak the Queen’s English or didn’t know how to use your knife and fork you would be excluded. So, these things are highly valued in Jamaica. Does it really matter how food gets into your mouth? I am certain that many British oriented Jamaicans would say yes. But in oriental cultures, people use chopsticks and many advanced civilizations use their hands. Does it make them less civilized?

In my reading of Sidney Poitier's book "Life Beyond Measure", I had a good laugh when he wrote that before he was rich and famous, he fell in love with a Jamaican beauty and went to a family dinner to ask her father's permission to marry. Her father vetoed the marriage because Mr. Poitier did not have table manners and could not use his knife and folk correctly. Years later when Mr. Poitier had married someone else and had in fact become rich and famous while the Jamaican beauty faltered in her relationships, the father had an occasion to meet Mr. Poitier and confessed that it would have been different if he had known the humble Sidney Poitier was going to turn out to be the great Sidney Poitier.

The elitist approach to education we inherited was designed to guarantee that Britannia ruled. We are now independent but Britannia continues to rule. Traditional Jamaican high schools are undeniably one of the great educational experiences in the world but only for the few who are chosen. At the same time, we relegate the majority of Jamaican children powerless and untutored. Can anyone believe that our children only go to school for a half a day? Because we lack classroom space, we must accommodate split shifts. In Japan, children go to school for eight hours per day, six days per week and in addition, are required to do an enormous amount of homework. The final insult is to convince the poor in Jamaica that their condition is a result of their own weak-mindedness, lack of character and ambition.

A massive overhaul is needed. What we have is indoctrination masked as education. Presently, our society is populated at the bottom of the economic and social ladder by darker-skinned people. In a true self fulfilling prophecy, we do not provide relevant educational opportunities because we believe it would be a waste of resources, we then pull the rabbit out of the hat and declare that their impoverished circumstance is their fault, not recognizing that we placed the rabbit in the hat in the first place by not investing in them.

The poor are made to feel inferior, unable to learn and treated like outsiders because they have committed the crime of being poor. To say that the poor are treated like criminals is an understatement. We have made everything the poor are forced to do against the law and made them outlaws. The criminalization and our animus toward indigents must change. While we may not be able to find jobs, provide educational opportunities and housing for everyone, I would be content if our police and government bureaucrats show some respect to poor people as they do for the rich and on a long term basis, reconstitute our educational menu.

Anatole France said sarcastically: "The majestic equality of the law, which forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under Bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." There is no greater inequality that the equal treatment of unequals.

While we should build on our strength and exalt what is currently exemplary, we must also include more of our children under the umbrella. No child should be left behind. The children of Jamaica should never feel that they are incapable, helpless and unable to change their circumstances. But this is what I encounter.

Our present state of affairs is that we spend lavishly on the education of a few who then abandon us. Less than 20% of the doctors, nurses and pharmacists remain in Jamaica after we train them but we do not invest resources on the ones who stay. The brain drain from Jamaica to the United States, England and Canada is astounding. What about the needs of our own society? Will we have to end up importing the doctors, nurses and pharmacists we need from India?

Our schools can be agents of positive change if the curriculum is relevant to people’s lives. Our government should stop thinking that our people are burdens and mouths to feed rather than talented and gifted people who will advance our cause if they are offered an education. You cannot begin to imagine the inventions, productivity and solutions for our problems that will follow if the masses of Jamaican children felt empowered, valued, self confident and safe! We have a long way to go to remedy the historical neglect for this segment of society.

It is Jamaica’s shame that up to a third of our citizens are illiterate and must buy their driver’s license. It is a disgrace that with the outstanding gene pool we have that so few pass critical exams or can even write a decipherable sentence. How will we compete on the world stage? The solution is in the resolve of our society, strategic planning and the appropriation of adequate resources. Let’s make academic success the rule rather than the exception. If you think educating our people is expensive, try ignorance.

"Lord, make us instruments of Your peace!
Where there is hatred, let us sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy."
---St. Francis of Assisi