Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Debates and 'de work'

by Jean Lowrie-Chin - excerpt for Jamaica Observer column - 15 October 2012

Jamaican friends and colleagues have been giving their blow-by-blow take on the debates for this crucial presidential campaign.  Some are emotional - they are moved that President Barack Obama, a Black man made it to the White House and they want him to get his maximum two consecutive terms. Others used it as an escape from the realities of our local political scene. Interestingly, my American friend says she is so glad to be in Jamaica to escape the current heat of US politics: for all God's creatures it's a choice between fight or flight.

Can we blame PM Simpson Miller for finding the time to welcome Jamaican members of the Windies Team after their victorious triumph in the ICC World Twenty20? Honestly, if I were the PM, I would have done the same thing, especially if Clovis was giving me such a hard time.

Yes, we have to "tek bad t'ing mek laugh", but the time has long passed for jokes. UTech lecturer in economics Darron Thomas has made some good points, promoting renewable energy sources to cut our fuel import costs, and the creation of industries to manufacture solar equipment.

I had put messages about energy conservation on Facebook, and past JEA president Deryck Rose called to express his impatience that there is no official push to promote this. Leachim Semaj made a similar comment. Why are we squandering so much energy?

As I reflect on the frugal living of past generations, I find it sad that their descendants are so wasteful. Back in the day, we used to spend summer holidays at our grandmother's house in a little district called Big Bridge, two miles from Sav-la-mar. They had no electricity, except for a small generator to run her rice mill. When we were just getting up in the morning, the men had returned already with large sheaves of rice which they would spread out on a wide concrete area called a barbecue. After it was dried and milled, we would get baskets of rice to "pick" and it was fun to remove the tiny stones and the grains that had escaped the husking machine.

We marvelled at our widowed grandmother's energy. She did not have formal schooling but was one savvy lady, running the farm at the back and the shop in front of her house. My sister  and I would help in the shop, weighing out sugar and flour on the scale to be wrapped in neat little brown paper packages. We enjoyed pleating them twice, then folding over the edges so not a bit could escape  – Grandma hated waste.

Now, because the Cabaritta River ran through the land, the mosquitoes were fearsome. We had to lock up the wooden louvres tightly at dusk and sit in the little drawing room by Grandma's Home-Sweet-Home lamp reading. Watching grandma cook was unforgettable. This was on a "fireside" in a concrete kitchen separate from the house.
She prepared the spices for her famous curries from scratch, sitting on her haunches and using riverstones, one round, one flat called a "seal" to grind the tiny seeds, her fingers swiftly gathering up the mixture into the centre and pressing down with the stone until they formed a smooth paste. She would clean the freshly caught fish we call "goddamie" with her skilful knife and before we knew it, dinner was on the table – all from the river and her rice field.

Like so many humble Jamaicans, she used what she had to build a life for herself and her children. The solution for national recovery is tough but doable – it requires sacrifice, courage, hard work and perseverance. So many of us are products of the sheer heroism of our parents, yet few of us demand this level of performance from ourselves and those who are looking to us.

If only we would consider Darron Thomas' suggestion, pick ourselves up from our sofas and start using that hot and steadfast sun bestowed on us by the Almighty – absolutely free of cost. Sundried vegetables and fruit are gourmet food. Even as we complain, there are new young farmers in the field using modern methods to plant peppers, raise goats and do bee farming. Rainforest Seafoods is expanding and buying fish from fishing villages established by Food for the Poor.

The new Digicel Global Headquarters in downtown Kingston is designed with solar panels and wind turbines to make it energyself-sufficient. It uses the minimum 15 per cent of its energy from the JPS, only because that is a legal requirement.

So, let us not dismiss ideas from thoughtful and resourceful Jamaicans. We are not as big and as complicated as some want us to believe. May our leaders look back on the values of those parents and mentors who sacrificed for them, and make the necessary sacrifices for Jamaica. Happy National Heroes' Day!

NB - I deleted a section published in the Observer about a hog my Grandma had in her backyard.  My mother says I erred - Grandma did not need it as 'sickness insurance' - her rice business was doing quite well thank you. 

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