'Unprecedented' was the word of Monday evening as the prime minister and the minister of finance did a dual act, sharing the television screen at one and the same time, to bring the nation news of what the IMF is demanding of us as we walk through the macca, spelt "DEBT". This is not the Seventies when the letters IMF struck fear into hearts and we retaliated by defacing every available surface with the ominous accusation: "Is Michael's Fault". Whose fault is it this time?
Michael Manley's mortal remains lie now in the dust in National Heroes Park, interred there since March 1997. Great communicator though he was, even he would be at a loss for words to adequately express how we have gone full circle since his time, finding ourselves once more beholden to an institution whose borrowing doors we were supposed never to walk through again.
Mr PJ Patterson warned us but "hard-ears" shut out the call to face reality. So, the wheel goes round and comes round, leaving us to wonder when we will be evolved enough to really stand on our own.
It is of little comfort to know that national debt is not unique to us. A whole lotta other nations bigger than us, are having money worries, but we have to face our own demons. Whether it is by "tightening belt" or "bitter medicine", will we ever succeed in climbing to the top of that mountain which we've long so dreamed of conquering? Till then, prepare for battle lines to be drawn in the political sand. It has already begun. The Opposition walk-out from Gordon House on Tuesday night serves notice that it will be no "easy snapping" ahead.
This is not the Seventies or any of the other decades leading up to now. People have changed. They want more and are prepared to get it any cost. Resistance might take a different form than in the past. Government had better be aware of the anger and frustration that lies simmering, just below the surface. Whether we emerge successfully from the tunnel which we are entering once again, ready to see the light or continue stumbling in the darkness, is the challenge of the times.
Life goes on. By a quirk of the calendar, at mid-week, two contrasting rituals followed one after the other in quick succession. First, there was the solemn observance of Ash Wednesday, kick-starting the journey into 40 days of Lent, with its call to self-denial, observed by some Christians who take it very seriously.
It still surprises visitors to Trinidad that on the stroke of midnight on Shrove Tuesday, at the height of the fete, Bacchanal ends and Lent begins. Instead of playing "maas", the faithful go off to Mass on Ash Wednesday. Back home, we use one multi-purpose designation for Church as if we all sing from the same book. We don't. Some Christians observe Ash Wednesday and Lent. For others, Ash Wednesday is just another day off from work.
ASH WEDNESDAY gave way to Thursday, February 14 and the instant gratification of St Valentine's Day took over. What would St Valentine say? According to history, he was a saintly man who died on February 14 in the third century. Why he became the patron saint of a festival of love is not clear. History also says there were actually three saintly Valentines, but a head count really doesn't matter. One has ended up as patron of the annual spending orgy in the name of love - for what is Valentine's Day without gift giving.
In our ancestral wisdom, we know that if you "cyaan ketch Quakoo, yuh ketch him shut". The job of poster boy for love wasn't meant for a saint. Poor Valentine. How could he have known to what his name would become attached? To candlelight dinners, red roses, chocolates and teddy bears with red hearts, lingerie parades, steamy encounters and dreams of happy ever after. There is every likelihood that were he here, he would have been crowned by joyful merchants, grateful for the annual boost out of the post New Year profit slump. Florists, candy-makers, sellers of love potions and greeting cards and all who trade in "love for a day" call Valentine blessed. Rising hormone levels can also add to the Valentine hysteria too. I read somewhere that a Christian group in our fair land was planning to lure poor people to a romantic Valentine dinner then turn them on to the concept of marriage to build families. The idea isn't all that novel. Once, a Governor's wife (Lady Huggins), led a marriage for the poor campaign, organising mass weddings all over the island. Wedding is one thing, the long-haul of marriage is another. The campaign did not last, nor did the marriages which were performed, proving that you can't buy "happily ever after". At this point, we might do better to return to the topic of Lent.
Word has come that Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, head of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, has been inviting fellow Anglicans around the globe to join him in a Carbon Fast for Lent. Usually Lent is a season of giving up, but the Archbishop is urging the taking up of changes in lifestyle to reduce carbon footprints.
Not many persons in our nation are yet fully sensitised to words like "carbon footprints" and what they mean. In our ignorance, we are doing great damage to our environment quite unaware of the consequences. The Archbishop's Lenten call highlighted issues like the prudent use of electricity, re-cycling, protecting water sources, taking an interest in climate change, which in our case, are being ignored at our peril. It is time that we become aware that these matters have to be taken seriously. It is not enough to be preparing to raise hell when the water is rationed during drought - the promised crisis which lies ahead. Could we give up senseless waste and abuse of our "Jamaica, land we love" and take up the opportunity to save it while there is still time ... and we don't have to wait for Lent to do it.
EVENT OF THE WEEK for those lucky enough was to have been guests at the fantastic 100th birthday party held at Hope Gardens last week-end for a remarkable lady, Mrs Muriel Amiel (one of the Gordon Town Duvals), born February 6, 1913. Still gorgeous, still stylish, still strong, she was the Queen of the Evening. The testimonies to her life and work would make a whole book of what Jamaica was and could have been, especially in the development of agriculture. Mrs Amiel's husband was farm manager at Hope, the Bodles Agricultural station, and at the original Jamaica School of Agriculture where she was house mother to generations of students. Those who were involved with these institutions over the years, turned out to reminisce on the "good old times", ending their tribute to Mrs Amiel with a group rendition of the Farmer's Hymn: "We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land." Today, alas, that joyous anthem has been replaced by "Praedial Larceny stalks the land." Mrs Amiel is blessed, she has nothing but memories of the good old days, a century full of them. That's cause enough for celebration.