Bag juice children and stunted brains
JACKIE is in her late 30s, highly educated and a professional. She pulls in around $6 million per year, plus she drives a company car and gets a healthy 'housing allowance'. She moves around mostly in the circle of her peers, that is, those who are also doing well, eating well and living in comfort. Whenever Jackie discusses economic matters, she is immediately drawn to the macroeconomic numbers which lend support to what she and her close circle of friends can see. "The country is not as bad off as you and others are making it out to be. We have made progress and we are making progress," she insists.
Jackie's comfort zone is a poolside discussion of economic and social matters and she hardly ever moves outside it. Maybe she is smarter than I give her credit. After all, we all have our sanity to protect.
Less than two minutes drive from where Jackie eats either roasted duck or king crab legs lives Susan, who is literally dying of constantly fretting about how she is going to fund the back-to-school commitments for her two children. Her youngest child is always in tow and she is always plying him with bag juice which is really not fruit juice of any sort; just some sugary, coloured water.
Already I can see that glazed-over look in his eyes indicative of poor nutrition and, more troubling, the likelihood that it will affect his future learning. Policymakers at the national level find comfort in parroting the politically correct position that nutrition levels have made significant increases when compared with, say, 1962 -- the year we got political independence.
It is now more the hope than the concrete plan that 2030 will be the year that Jamaica attains economic independence, Vision 2030, that is. Many of those families who are now clinging to the bottom rung of poor households will, by education and training, make it into the middle class and give the country more socio-economic viability than it has now. The hope.
But have we been enumerating the large mass of urban poor, who are now firm stakeholders in the new bag juice poverty circle? Ironically, this new round of poverty has brought out immediate innovation from a few youngsters, many of whom are now in the manufacturing and distribution of bag juice.
At $10 to $20, the semi-frozen, coloured syrupy water is a big seller all over Jamaica, and it is an absolute hit outside the gates of schools hosting children from the poorest households in this country. You won't find too many children from Campion and Immaculate in the daily routine of sucking on a plastic bag of 'juice'.
It makes no sense my chastising Susan for having too many children as the process is irreversible. I may help her with one of the booklists which she has shown me because it is moderate (about $5,000), but as much as I want to point out to her that too many purchases of bag juice is harmful to her children I did hear her say that, "When dem have bag juice dem nuh bawl fi hungry".
That almost broke my heart as it sunk in that the bag juice was a kind of nutritional security blanket for her children. It didn't provide them with any useful nutrition, but as Jamaica is both tropical and filled with too many pockets of poverty, that double whammy continues to drive up the sale of bag juice.
The poorest families, who are most in need of nutritional advice, can do the least with it if and when they get it. Telling a poor woman to purchase six oranges at a minimum of $30 each to make juice is wasting one's time when $30 can purchase two $15 bags of juice.
By definition and logic, those in need of the biggest nutritional injection are the worse off nutritionally. The vast majority of poor children are only given enough lunch money to purchase bag juice and desiccated banana chips, another food item poor on the nutrition roster.
When it is considered that bus fares is another main and pressing concern for poor families and that there is zero negotiating space for the bus fares, then it will be the nutritional package that will suffer in the priority list.
Most of Susan's children that I have casually and not clinically spoken to are 'slow', and I am not aware if she is aware of it. I am truly afraid to point out what seems, to me, to be obvious.
About 12 years ago I spoke to a poor woman on Whitehall Avenue about the dangers of plying her baby (in her arms) with bag juice.
"Ah how yuh so damn renk! Yu know how wi eat a wi yaad? Wi probably eat better dan yuh. Damn renk!"
So I learned my lesson, but it doesn't take away the pain from knowing that Susan's children are having too many bellyfuls of sugared water and not enough of the wholesome foodstuff that will trigger useful brain activity. And there are many families like Susan's right throughout Jamaica.
Drop PNP and JLP and go for independents?
A reader wrote: "Reading your column today about Holness inspires me to write to you about the next election.
"I, and all the people who did not vote for the PNP (28 per cent of the electorate) and the JLP (23 per cent) constitute 49 per cent of the electorate and we do not want either party. The numbers are now increased, as few who voted PNP or JLP want either today.
"So, how can we change the lock both parties have on our votes? It's no use trying to build a new political party; many have tried and proved how impossible it is to find 60-plus candidates to offer themselves as a new party that people will vote for.
"I propose instead that independent MPs are what we should seek to provide an alternative political pathway. As I see it, people who have lived in a community/constituency and shown themselves capable of leadership and representation should offer themselves to the electorate as Independent candidates.
"Each would campaign on the assets of residency, proven work (as teacher, shopkeeper, businessman, lawyer, doctor, whatever) in and for the community, and ask for votes. There could be more than one independent candidate in a constituency, but we would hope for at least one in each.
"At the end of the election, if only four independent MPs were elected, they would hold the balance of power in the House in every situation, as each of the other two parties (whether in Government or Opposition) would seek their support. Their voices would also be listened to by the public and, if they perform well, would inspire more independents to stand in future elections for national, local government, and even for appointments to head or serve national institutions.
"This may seem like an impossible dream, but we should certainly try it. It would be a shame if we found ourselves stuck with the PNP (inevitable, given Holness's JLP) for another eternity of their lacklustre performance.
"We can't take any more of Omar, Peter Phillips, Bunting, and especially PSM. Otherwise, there will surely be a revolution coming up. That's another topic I want you to comment on soon: The possibility of a Jamaican Revolution."
I responded to the reader as follows: "Always great to hear from you.
"The possibility of a Jamaican Revolution. Hmmm. I keep hearing this talk in bars and at 'corners' with increased anger attached to it. Will it be an armed, violent revolution? I think not -- unless the army officers were involved.
"Or there could be a sort of reprise of the April 1999 gas riots with the attendant looting and general mayhem. So many people are out of work and feeding on bag juice and chips now that it would be easy for the present political order to "capture" them during an election campaign.
"Jamaica's biggest problem is the generally poor education of our population. If my memory serves me right, at the last local government election a candidate in the west won his council seat on an independent ticket. I think I wrote about it then.
"Stated as you made it out to be, it makes sense — this slate of independents. But will the mass of our people work it out that way in their heads, filled as they have been with PNP and JLP duppies? That is my major concern with the independents issue.
"Granted, the level of anger with the two political parties has never been this high. But, I am not certain the man at street level is willing to break with the duppies of the past. We need something to create a tipping point. To bring about critical mass. Haffi work dat one out in mi head."
She responded: "Ah, Mark, so glad you agree with me that independent MPs are possible. Yes, it would need a talking campaign to explain the option to our uneducated population, but some are just waiting to hear of something, anything, that can bring about change.
"Yes, 28 per cent and 23 per cent would probably still vote for their favourite party, but if just a few Independents win from the 49 per cent, it will show the people that change is possible.
"Yes, it would definitely need a tipping point. Don't know what that will be, but people are ready. Mario Deane was a tipping point; would have been worse if he had been a Rasta. Bus fares were going to be increased, but Omar quickly quelled Andrew's move by lowering the fares. I watch and wait.
"The most angry people are the young ones who were fooled into thinking that, after learning all the high school stuff, they had to put themselves into debt for three years or more so as to find themselves unemployable university graduates, instead of income-earning self-entrepreneurs. They are angry!
"You should definitely mention the talk of 'revolution'. People love it when you write about what the talk is in the bars around town."
The Chikungunya scare and long-term fogging with Malathion
I am reminded of the joke told to me in the 1970s about how men spraying mosquitoes protected their jobs.
Let's say 10 of them are employed to do it. It would be best if five went to the gully region and five went to the hills and all did the spraying at the same time. But no, all 10 went to the hills and sprayed. Some mosquitoes died and some fled to the gully.
In another few days all 10 men went to the gully and sprayed. Some mosquitoes died and some fled to the hills. And the process continued on and on.
My friend Lloyd D'Auguilar is an activist at just about all levels and, like me, he is concerned about the spraying with malathion.
He wrote and he spoke about open letters he had penned: "Hi Mark, this is my second open letter on the matter. The first one was to Fenton Ferguson going over the same points. I think some media persons have caught on and are asking questions about the safety of this malathion which they are spraying us with. DuCasse is trying her best to obfuscate, but we mustn't let up.
"As I said, it is us they are spraying not mosquitoes. Mosquitoes quickly become resistant to the spraying. In any event, you just can't spray indiscriminately without evidence as to where the mosquitoes are breeding or if there have been infections in that particular area. That is how it is done in other jurisdictions.
"The next thing is that there is no notice given as to when they are going to spray and that is a no no. It is not done like that elsewhere. They are obliged to be honest about the toxic content of malathion. In NY, court action by a citizens' group forced the City to admit that the spray can be toxic to humans.
"Workers are not protected, and that is a crime as far as I am concerned. I see these guys on the back of vans with absolutely no protection.
"By playing on people's ignorance they are committed to spraying us. Ducasse last week said they would be going on three-day blitzes; that was her word!
"So I have no remedy other than to stop spraying people. Educate people about how they can reduce the spread by destroying mosquito-breeding grounds. And the MOH should use the money to clean the gullies... that is the best remedy.
"Also, they must stop using alarminst tactics about Chikungunya. It is no more a fatal disease than the common cold!"