How Andrew got his groove back

Lance Neita

Sunday, March 24, 2019

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George “Tony” Brown, community development chairman in the Old Folly district, Discovery Bay, is a proud and happy man today. Forty-two members of his family flew in from Fort Lauderdale several weeks ago to attend the ninth annual Old Folly community sports day.

Now, Old Folly is a tiny fishing village located in Noranda Bauxite's operating area. This annual sports day is a major event. Organised totally by the community residents, it is a true celebration of old-time Jamaican community traditions, in which families meet on the commons to enjoy sports, cooking, dancing, story-telling, and memories that engage locals as well as their Diaspora from overseas. Teams represent four 'houses' that compete in races for grandparents, parents, teenagers, kids, female and male events, taxi drivers races, tug-o-war, beer drinking contests, dancing and singing competitions.

The 2019 event drew over 100 (take note Jamaica Tourism Board) overseas friends and family members back to their community roots for a weekend of rhyming, fun, worship, and frolic. The Brown family members rented cottages, enjoyed Puerto Seco, went touring, went to church, and participated in the fun events during this remarkable weekend. The huge crowd, vendors' stalls, music, 'house' colours, flags, team uniforms, and prize-giving made it a special calendar event for Old Folly and its neighbours.

One lady from abroad told me she has never missed an event. “I would feel lost without it, it's one of my main ties to Jamaica and answers the summons in my heart that whispers each time, “See you in Jamaica next year!” Like the others, she plans to be back for the 10th.

It's like taking a leaf out of the book of the Jewish nation who have never forgotten their homeland, wherever they may be. Diaspora Jews all over the world automatically recite the phrase “next year in Jerusalem”, at the end of their celebratory meal and telling of the Passover story. “Next year in Jerusalem” is said to encapsulate that continuing flicker of hope that has sustained Jews for centuries past in the midst of despair, and that Jerusalem will remain a potential haven for all Jews.

Many Jamaicans share the same hope that they can come home to their native land. It is a hope that inspires them through the cold of winter, the cultural and racial bigotry sometimes experienced, the long hours working three jobs a day, and the absence of family and loved ones. They hope that, one day, they will come home to a more peaceful country to build, to retire, to enjoy their community, and to be buried in the family plot. They whisper in their hearts, sometimes grudgingly, oftentimes joyfully, “Next year in Jamaica!”

There is a similar kind of homecoming celebration in the nearby village of Dumbarton located between Brown's Town and Discovery Bay. They have a traditional march through the village each Emancipation Day, August 1, that echoes the freedom march of their ancestors in 1834. The locals gather on the commons at 5:00 am and march with drums, fife and the abeng down the four-mile stretch to the beaches in Discovery Bay, and return by whatever transport to catch the communal breakfast of ackee and saltfish, mackerel rundown, breadfruit, and chocolate tea — real chocolate tea — prepared at the community centre. It is a celebration of the historic event that led to the establishment of one of the earliest 'Free Villages' in St Ann on the Dumbarton Estate (also known as Liberty Hill).

These two traditions, the Old Folly sports day and the Dumbarton Freedom March, are unique and valuable displays of the independence and the joyful spirit of Jamaican that continue to flourish even while standards and values, mayhem and scandals, continue to threaten the peace and love that lies in the heart of the Jamaican people.

The traditional events take place against, and in spite of, those alarming stories of murder and rape and pillage that stalk the land. I hold up these community traditions as beacons of hope for a Jamaica rocked by what we can only think of as unnatural behaviour. The village celebrations described haven't the slightest resemblance to the expensive and high-profile carnival events. While Old Folly was demonstrating the richness and generosity of village life, the misconduct and blatantly wrong behaviour of Jamaicans elsewhere provide the strong contrast that shapes us into more than one, or two, or even three Jamaicas.

Consider that even while the organisers sit up at night to make plans for their village festivals, as gunmen prowl the streets and lanes to execute the blueprint of murder.

Old Folly and Dumbarton are tiny snapshots of what life can be like in Jamaica. Sure they are not perfect solutions, as there are times when fights will 'bruk' out in these villages, and there are police-and-t'ief episodes, but contrast the restful nature of their sports days events to the twists and turns in the Education Ministry saga.

The Opposition Leader was the whistle-blower in this instance, although quite a few individuals in key positions, including Dr Trevor Munroe, have stated that they were taken by surprise. The fact is that Senator Ruel Reid, in spite of a few glitches such as the foolish attempt to muzzle his teachers, was showing competence and good management as the minister in charge of policies and programmes. Indeed, the schools and the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) have given a resounding thumbs up on the new Primary Exit Profile (PEP) exams, in spite of a bumbling start. The early childhood sector was being strengthened, and a number of first-class basic schools have been built under his watch. One of his last public functions as minister would have been the opening of the Dumbarton (Liberty Hill) Basic School. Those who attended the official opening ceremony gave the facility a five-star rating. As a teacher, he also displayed good leadership at Jamaica College as well as during his tenure as president of the JTA.

So, what went so terribly wrong?

We are still to hear the details and, in all fairness to Reid, the Opposition and those naysayers need to be cautious and give the prime minister some room to assess the situation before making any further announcements. This might seem to be the mother of all scandals, but let's face it, everyone, including our politicians, have a little corruption in them, no matter how tiny. The list of political scandals on both sides is astonishing. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. I invite you to Google your history of political corruption in Jamaica and you would be surprised, very surprised, whose names would turn up.

We must, however, thank and congratulate the Opposition for their untiring efforts to expose wrongdoing and gross mismanagement of our taxpayers' money. I am reminded of the pastor in an English satire who told his congregation that, “Life is like a tin of sardines. You dig, and you dig, and you dig until you believe you have got everything out of the tin.” He pauses for a minute and then continues, “But there is always a little bit left in the corner, isn't there?”

One good thing that has come out of this mess so far is how the prime minister got his groove back. His swift, clinical action in cutting Reid loose is to his credit and offers some hope to those who have been crying out for corrective action to put a stop to what Peter Phillips says is “the cancer of corruption”. It's not just cancer in the political body, its cancer on almost all fronts.

One civil servant friend of mine told me that he had 'borrowed' a computer from his office to go home and do some personal work, but when he heard what was happening on Wednesday he galloped back to the office and returned it that same night. If anything the prime minister's action should serve warning to all of us.

Lance Neita is a public relations consultant and writer. Send comments to the Observer or lanceneita@hotmail.com.


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