Moving Back to Jamaica

A blog about my Move Back to Jamaica after 20+ years of living in the US. Most of the articles focus on the period from 2005-2009 when the transition was new, and at it's most challenging.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Francis' Company Roundup - December 07

Here is a short summary of what's been happening over at the Framework website and blog.

From the Framework website:

Podcast radio interview with Paul Thomas, former CEO of Lascelles Division of Lascelles de Mercado. This interview on the Breakfast Club done in 2000, speaks to some of the results he realized in a major culture change programme.

Latest issue of FirstCuts ezine (#18), entitled: Closing out 2007, describes some of the initiatives planned for next year.

FirstCuts17 as a podcast, read by me, in this my second attempt.

One Page Digest Issues 1-27: The Digest is a summary of links that are useful for Caribbean executives.

Link to Open Jobs: Warning -- at this time, most are volunteer positions!

From the Chronicles from a Caribbean Cubicle blog:

Launch of a new programme: NewHabits-NewGoals is being launched in pilot form on Jan 15-16 in Kingston. Click on this link to be taken to the page that describes the programme.


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My true network of friends

Moving home to live in Jamaica has revealed to me that American friends are for a reason, but Jamaican friends are for life.

Here is my evidence: as a fully addicted Facebook user I have 179 friends (after joining in August.)

1 is from my Cornell days (I found him) (4.5 years)
1 is from my days as an employee at AT&T (he found me) (5 years)
1 is from my days working as a consultant in the US (12 years)
71 have joined the Jamaica network on Facebook
18 have joined the Trinidad network
3 have joined no network and have no connection to the Caribbean

This is after living 18 years in Jamaica, 20 years in the U.S., and 4-5 years in Jamaica including time spent transitioning home.

It has made me ask all sorts of questions. The most compelling one is -- "where are my American friends?"

My first thought was -- they are too busy to join Facebook. I searched for them, but they don't seem to have joined. I looked for friends at all times of my life, starting with college and working my way up to today -- but no luck.

Then I thought that I should invite them... but I realized that I had no contact information. I have Googled the odd one here and there, and found them when I could get lucky, and even sent a few emails in the past. But the response was weak -- kinda like, "Oh yeah, I remember you." (As if that were the point.)

Yet, I count in my Facebook friends childhood friends I had when I was five, here in Jamaica. Talking to them is like picking up where we left off. They say "How is everything going?" as if it is understood that I have been thinking about you and your welfare for the past 20 years, keeping track of what's been happening through mutual friends.

Why the difference?

I've come to believe that part of what makes coming home so very sweet is that a returnee is immediately plugged back in to a community that cares, and puts a great deal of value in contact.

Recently, my wife commented that if she doesn't reach out to her American friends, then they are content to have the relationship just wither away.

As I have commented elsewhere -- the relationships in America are like tin foil, plastic containers, broke appliances and used tires -- disposable.

For whatever reason (size of country, number of people, etc.) relationships abroad (unless they are with Caribbean people) are created for a purpose, and once the purpose is over, the relationship withers.

My old college roommate? The guy I shared a cubicle with on my first job? My neighbours in New Jersey? My former business partner? A training partner in Florida? The hundreds of people who took courses that I taught?

All gone.

And the thing is, I don't think they are sweating the fact that I am not in their life, the way I am. It's not that they are bad people -- hardly. Instead, Americans are content to let "friends" drift in and drift out, without making any special effort to stay connected.

Once the purpose is over, the effort stops.

Here in the Caribbean, we see relationships very differently. As I explained to a fellow consultant at one point, when we West Indians meet someone for the first time our assumption is very different -- we see it as the first meeting of many. We assume that the person will be in our life forever.

Americans seem to think differently and I remember thinking that way when I lived there -- "this is someone I will never see again."

The actions taken are quite different from that point on. We Jamaicans notice that Americans want to know (and tell) everything in the first introduction.

Americans notice that Jamaicans are reticent in the first meeting, and don't seem to make a special effort.

It's just that the background context is very, very different leading to almost opposing actions.

I guess they also lead to a very different idea about relationships.

Coming home, and especially doing so for the holidays, reminds Jamaicans living abroad that while they live in foreign, there is only oneplace they really _belong_ -- and that is, right here at home.


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Friday, December 28, 2007

Why Educated Jamaicans Remain Abroad

It caught my attention: a letter to the editor from a young returnee expressing her disappointment at not being able to find a job after five months here at home.

Here is the letter in its entirety:

Why educated Jamaicans remain overseas
published: Sunday | December 23, 2007

After almost five months of rigorous job hunting and with a genuine desire to become one of the future leaders of Jamaica, I decided to share a letter that I have written, with my fellow Jamaicans here and abroad, in an effort to encourage them to voice their concerns to the Government pertaining to the issue of highly qualified Jamaicans being unable to get a job after returning home. I don't think it is being recognised as a growing epidemic. The letter is as follows:

My fellow Jamaicans, how can Jamaica move from being a developing to a developed country when Jamaicans who decide to return home after successfully completing their master's and doctorate degrees are not offered employment?

I am a 27-year-old female who returned home in August 2007 after graduating from one of the highly recognised universities in the United States with a master's degree in food science. It has been almost five months and I have not been able to get a job. I find this very disheartening and frustrating as I believe that the area of study that I have chosen would be very beneficial to Jamaica as it is a rapidly growing field that is in high demand worldwide.

During my study of food science, I did a variety of courses which included food chemistry, food analysis, nutritional sciences, food microbiology, post-harvest technology of fruits and vegetables, food processing and packaging, aseptic processing technology, food ingredient technology, food biotechnology and better process control, which is actually FDA certified.

I was so excited in returning home to Jamaica as I have a genuine interest in the development of my country.

After graduation, I was confident that with my training I would be able to assist in the production of safe and nutritious food items for my fellow Jamaicans, and also to assist the local food companies to become more competitive in the international market.

I strongly believe that Jamaica's food products and resources are not being marketed effectively because there is not adequate attention being directed towards ensuring their presence, safety and nutritional value. Therefore, I chose the field of food science with the intention of helping to break those barriers so that Jamaica's food products and resources could be internationally recognised and desired.

Lack of jobs

During my studies overseas, I also encouraged my fellow Jamaicans, who were in various graduate fields all over the United States, to return home after completing their studies, as their skills would be very beneficial to Jamaica's development. This was done in an effort to help secure Jamaica's future, as I am very passionate about my country and its success, and I am hoping to become intimately involved in the future of Jamaica. They, however, expressed that they had no desire to return home with the escalation of crime and violence and economic turmoil. They also strongly believe that with their educational background, Jamaica would not be able to offer them suitable jobs and compensation.

So, when are we going to do something about this increasing epidemic of our educated Jamaican people who have no desire to return home because of this lack of jobs and compensation? When are statements such as, "You are overqualified for the position", going to be obsolete? Are we forever to remain in the shadows of developed countries and continuously lose our educated and skilled people to them?

I have very high hopes and dreams for Jamaica, but how can I be of assistance if I am not given the opportunity to do so? How can I effectively convince my fellow educated and qualified Jamaicans to return home and help to develop our home if I cannot even get job interviews? I have applied to over 30 food and beverage companies in Jamaica as well as government agencies, and I have only received two job interviews, neither of which resulted in employment offers.

Code red alert

But with the several résumés that I delivered, I was completely positive that with my field I should be able to get a job and start my career. I know that if I had remained in the United States, I would have had a job upon graduation as did my fellow classmates. Companies and government agencies conducted recruitment campaigns at the university that I attended, as well as other select universities, in an effort to find suitable candidates. I was not apprehensive about returning home as I was confident that my field would be highly desired and utilised effectively.

Being home and still unemployed after almost five months of rigorous job hunting and with a genuine desire to become one of the future leaders of Jamaica, I decided to write a letter to the Prime Minister of Jamaica, the Honourable Bruce Golding, explaining my concern, thereby hoping that the Government would decide to put this grave concern into code red alert.

We encourage our people to further their educational career, but what is Jamaica prepared to offer the relatively few that actually decide to do so? I sincerely believe that without our educated population contributing to our country, we cannot move towards being a developed country. I also decided to share this letter with my fellow Jamaicans, here and abroad, in an effort to encourage you all to voice your concerns to the Government pertaining to this issue as I don't think it is being recognised as a growing epidemic.

I am, etc.,



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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Jamaican in My Foxhole

I don't know about you, but if a war broke out I'd want my fellow Jamaican in the foxhole beside me.

I wouldn't want a Trini, Bajan, Guyanese or anyone else from the region.

I'd want a Jamaican.

The reasons might be obvious to all, and need not be stated... but weyadres know how to "chuck badness" and a time of war is a pretty good time to "show dem bwoy who really run tings."

Perhaps the thing we are lacking here at home is for some foolish country to think that it could try to invade us, or bully us or use any kind of violence against us. I have a feeling that it would coalesce our patriotism, our aggression and our street smarts in a way that would change us forever.

After all, it's been awhile since we got rid of the Brits...

Unfortunately, without a real war to bring us together, we are left with the destructive violence of gang warfare, political fighting, religious cass-cass and good old man-woman conflicts. These are the social equivalents of shooting ourselves in the foot -- over and over again.

In other words, we are a people itching for a fight, but .... we can't find a good one to fight.


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Monday, December 24, 2007

Would Remittances Stop?

I wonder if Jamaica's economy were to dramatically improve, whether or not the remittances would slow down.

Also, I wonder if the economic gains would be offset by a remittance reduction, as Jamaicans abroad come to believe that Jamaicans back home don't need the cash as much as they used to.

I wonder how much the government knows about this, a critical part of our economy that is built on the success of Jamaicans abroad. What is the psychology of an overseas Jamaican? Are they sensitive to reports of progress? Should their contribution be encouraged?

I know that Jamaica is not the only developing country that relies on remittances, but I wonder if it's seen as a bonafide "market" that is built on a belief that news of hard times requires a trip to Western Union.

I wonder.


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Friday, December 21, 2007

Jamaica the Undesirable

This facinating article places Jamaica as second only to Haiti as the most most undesirable place to live in the Caribbean.

Barbados and Bahamas came in first and second, while other countries are to be found somewhere in between.

Click here to be taken to the article in entitled: Barbados/Bahamas ranked in top 50 places to live.


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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Blogging Changes Everything

Blogging is a tricky business.  Those who have never written a blog, or anything for public consumption, have no idea what it is like to have a readership.

To be sure, when I started this blog, I had no idea that one day it would receive some 120 visitors per day.  I would have been surprised if it had received 10 -- as I thought I was writing a set of tips that would help someone moving back to Jamaica, and that they would find it useful if they ever did a search for basic information.

Blogging, or the act of writing a public diary, changes everything about what is written, the tone of it, the level of self-disclosure and the risk that something written will come back in some form to haunt or harm.  I always found private writing to be a boring chore, and just could not keep up the discipline, as I could never figure out why I should continue after some point.

This blog, however, is a bit unique in the subject matter I write about, and whenever I write I realize that there are possibilities that arise when I write, such as:
-- future children, friends and family will have a record of some of my thinking that probably will last forever on the internet
-- people could find it useful for years to come
-- after I die, a little bit of me might continue long after

The most that could happen with a private diary is that it be discovered and read by one or two people.  That's not too much of an event.

However, my stats tell me that thousands of people around the world have read my blog, and this is just a little bit sobering.


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It's Been a Long "Time" Coming

If you have been following this blog, you might remember the posts I did related to topics of time management and productivity here in the Caribbean.

After a few years of developing the idea, I am launching the course today in the form of a pilot programme.

What: New Habits-New Goals - The Practice and Art of Professional Productivity in January, in Kingston

For more details, see


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Monday, December 17, 2007

Reggae Marathon and Jamaican Culture

This weekend I was part of the team that put on the Regga Marathon, and I can safely say that this is one of the most unique marathons in the world.

There are many things that make it special, but rather that run through the highlights myself, I can point to the Reggae Marathon website:

My own experience was a vivid reminder that Jamaican culture has so very much to offer the average visitor that is unique, different and remarkable.  We have a lot to offer a typical north American or European visitor who is used to the sanitized lifestyle that they live at home.

Not only do we have a lot to offer, but as an aggressive/assertive people, our culture does not present itself to tourists in a subtle way.  Instead, it comes at them like a truck barrelling down on them on a highway that is impossible to avoid.

At the moment, for example, I am still in Negril, staying at Coco Palm Hotel, and across the way a roadside soundsystem is blasting out some old school dancehall from the 1980's and 1990's.  We are all sharing it -- trying to turn it off would be a fruitless exercise.

Tourists who are able to accept whatever life throws at them love Jamaica.  Those that don't, would get upset at the music, call the management, phone the police or even worse, charge across the street and demand that the sound system owners "show some decency" by turning the music off.  This brand of tourist doesn't enjoy Jamaica very much, and probably leaves with a story about "the horrible time they had with those people."

What they don't realize is that the "in your face-ness" of Jamaican culture is... well, ... an integral part of Jamaican culture.

And, it helpts to make the Reggae Marathon a truly unique experience.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Learning to Consume

It strikes me that Jamaicans who migrate looking for a better life, do indeed get one, relative to what they left behind.

However, they also get something else -- a new and abiding hunger for more.

Returning to the U.S. after being away for a couple of years has opened my eyes to how much the message is transmitted in North America in the form of unrelenting advertising: "you don't have enough, you need more, and here is the more you need."

During my last trip to the U.S. I had the ongoing experience of being "sold to," using a combination of fear, greed and other base emotions.  The themes were everywhere I looked, from television to newspapers to billboards.

I never noticed the message when I lived there, but now that I live abroad and outside of that world, it stands out.

What is sad is that people in the U.S. seem to have developed a tough exterior in which they distrust all advertising and sales pitches with a sense of cynical "realism."  Each person sees the other as an economic target to sell something to, using whatever means necessary.

Here in Jamaica, things are just very different, and I have yet to receive my first Jamaican-based telemarketing call, piece of junk mail or email spam.

When a Jamaican moves abroad, they are subject to that same, new frame of mind.  They learn the cynicism that comes with repeatedly being "sold."  They come to want the best DVD player, more DVD's, the very latest films and the flat screen TV to watch it all on.  When they left Jamaica they were content being one of the few people they knew with any kind of DVD player.

The new consumer thinking gets into their heads, and they find that if they wait for the right sale, they can get what they want.  However, they also get something else they didn't plan on getting -- US Consumer tastes, a desire for more and a deep cynicism about marketing.

Coming back to Jamaica has meant a freedom from that hard edge and it's a solid benefit.  Hopefully, that's one thing that won't change.


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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ja Students: Spending a Summer Abroad

My sister wrote the following for Jamaican students who might be interested in spending a summer abroad. She is representing an organization that has a _very_ unique programme.

Introducing GLA international summer programmes to teenagers who think big

You may or may not know, but one of the reasons that I am in Jamaica, is to introduce a 3 week international summer programme for 15 - 18 year olds, held annually in Costa Rica, Ghana, India, South Africa and Brazil. Due to the timing of my trip however, it has been a bit difficult to reach many teenagers collectively. Therefore I am trying to reach as many parents of 15 - 18 year olds via service organizations and professional networks, and through my own personal networks. You have received this because you have been identified as a potentially interested parent, by your peers, or by me, or as someone with access to potentially interested teenagers and/or their parents. I am asking that you pass on this email to groups that reach parents of teenagers, or people who are parents or who are in contact with teenagers.

I am introducing this programme to Jamaica because I am a Jamaican whose path was altered when I was introduced to international exchange programmes as a teenager at St. Andrew High, and ended up spending a year abroad in Spain. As a result, I am incredibly passionate about giving our children access to international experiences that will push them to become forward-thinking young people and leaders. I currently live in South Africa, and have also lived in Ghana and the US.

For parents who want their children to think big.
You probably want your children to think big. That is, bigger than Jamaica, bigger than the country(ies) that they are routinely exposed to through the media, and bigger than the country(ies) that they may have visited with you in the past. You may also be thinking that it’s time for them to step out on their own, and experience a country outside Jamaica, on their own terms and in a more meaningful way than through a tourist visit. The tourist visits undoubtedly spike their curiosity, but now it’s time to go a step further. You are probably thinking that it’s time for them to engage in a meaningful summer programme that will enable them to become ‘switched on’ young people with a more mature view of issues and the world.

Introducing Costa Rica, Ghana, Brazil, India and South Africa to your child
Global Leadership Adventures is a 3-week programme designed for 15-18 year olds in these 5 countries. It is a programme designed to expose you children to another country in a meaningful way, and to equip teenagers with the kind of skills that will fine tune their thinking and leadership skills as teenagers. It will undoubtedly raise their social, cultural and political awareness, and make them much more globally savvy, in a world in which global thinking counts for a lot.

Global Leadership Adventures – professionally founded and organised
I do not work with GLA programme full time. Rather, I am introducing the programme because I believe in it, and so that people can associate a name and face with a programme which they may only have seen on the web or heard about through New York Times or other media channels.

Living in Spain for a year between 5th and 6th form, was, without a doubt, one of the single most defining experiences for me. While at university and graduate school in the US, I read applications from prospective students and talked with fellow students, and realized that participation in international programmes such as GLA counts for a great deal on university applications when applicants present their equally strong grades.

I’m introducing the programme so that Jamaican teenagers can have another life choice at their fingertips.

GLA’s head office is based in California, and the parent organization in outh Africa that first ran the programme was founded by a Ghanaian counterpart of mine. He has had personal experience in education and international programmes, experience in the US university and graduate school environment (and knows what it takes to succeed there), and professional experience in top international companies where leadership and global exposure carry tremendous weight.

You can find out more about the programme at Its worth having a look if you’re even mildly curious. The website is incredibly comprehensive, carrying videos, and testimonials written by teenagers who have previously gone on the programme, and carrying information about fees and the application form.

Should you wish to learn more about the programme from me, I am happy to speak with you while I am here in Jamaica for the Christmas holidays. I am here until January 14, and am wiling to follow up with you or a group of parents or teenagers, should you be keen. My contact details are all below.


Ruth Wade Kwakwa

Introducing GLA to teenagers who think big

Ruth Wade Kwakwa

Contact numbers in Jamaica - 5 Dec 2007 to 13 January 2008
Mobile - (876) 504 0532
Contact number in South Africa
Mobile - (27 83) 494 7686


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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Right Kind of Brain Drain

Recently I heard that a friend of mine who is a doctor migrated to live in the U.S. from Jamaica. Some would lament the "brain drain."

I wonder whether or not her departure might just be a non-event in the grander scheme of things, and in terms of the benefit their leaving might bring to Jamaica.

A quick look at the pros and cons would yield the following insights.

Jamaica's main source of foreign exchange "earnings" is remittances. When a doctor leaves Jamaica they are likely to earn a great deal more money abroad, and are likely to send some of it home via Western Union, thereby helping out the country.

Also, the vast majority of doctors focus on healing, and don't create new economic value. Instead, their focus is on stemming the loss of life and livelihood (in economic terms.) Cuba is a good example of a country that has thousands of doctors, good healthcare, and a backward economy.

Lawyers are a bit bit better -- they facilitate the creation of economic value (or at least some do) by allowing commerce to thrive... sometimes. Without a good legal system, it is impossible to create economic value that is sustainable.

Jamaica would really suffer, however, if it lost its business-people. The fact is, the country needs it business-people to create economic wealth, which would probably improve education, create jobs, cut crime and give people hope that things could get better.

In this sense, a business-person who migrates takes with them way more economic potential, than does a doctor or lawyer.

Yet, our shools are filled with students who want to enter college to become... doctors and lawyers. Not entrepreneurs. Not educators. Not business-people who create jobs for others.

We need a change in priorities, and to rethink the economic effect of our brain-drain.


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Monday, December 10, 2007

Facebook and Moving Back

As I mentioned in a prior post, Facebook has become a tremendous community for middle-class Jamaicans *and Trinidadians), and one of the things I have noticed is that that there is a very steep age-curve.

In other words, younger members are using it heavily, and have hundreds of friends who are already registered and listed in their list of friends. For each year that a user ages, however, the smaller the number of friends that have listed.

What does this say about the future, given the addictive nature of the programme?

The fact is, Facebook makes it effortlessly easy to do things that used to take a lot of time and effort. Giving friends a short update? Finding out who they know? Putting a name to a face? Sharing recent news about oneself? Meeting people who are friends of friends? Facebook makes all of this quite easy, and it is way less intrusive than email, less time-consuming than meeting them in person, and less costly than trying to attend every party possible.

It simply is the best networking tool that I have found, and its power can only increase as more users join.

For those that are too busy to use it, prepare to be increasingly left out of the loop.

For someone who has moved back to Jamaica, it is a critical connector with friends and family across the globe. In other parts of this blog I have talked about the need to be two-headed upon returning -- connected both here in Jamaica, and in the country that one left. This tool makes it so much easier to be connected.
Unfortunately, to disregard Facebook out of hand, is to disregard people -- much in the same way that some chose not to bother with the breakthrough inventions of postal systems, telephones and email. The result was the same in each case -- non-participation in the lives of others, and being increasingly left out of social circles.


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Friday, December 07, 2007

Crime and Wealth in Trinidad

Look at these graphs/charts carefully.

They show that the recent upsurge of crime in Trinidad has been accompanied by an increase in GDP per capita.

In other words, the richer people have become on average, the more crimes they are committing.

It's a cautionary tale that should tell us Jamaicans that poverty by itself does not cause crime.

I visited Ghana in the mid 1990's, and their poverty was much higher, and their crime remains much lower.

This is not to say that wealth is _causing_ crime in Trinidad. But what is? Is it greed driven by income disparity?

When I was there a few weeks ago someone explained to me that crime goes up around Christmas and Carnival time as people look to gain easy access to consumer goods, fete tickets and the bling-bling required to look the part.

If we in Jamaica were to experience the sudden increase in wealth that Trinidad is experiencing, would we also see crime increase? Would be we better off with a slow increase?

Bear in mind that Trinidad's murder rate is still a fraction of ours in Jamaica, per capita. Is their wealth allowing them to 'catch up" with us in some ways -- in criminal ways?

I have no easy answers.


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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Cash Plus Felon

The front page news breaking today in the Jamaica Observer is that the founder and president of Cash Plus is a convicted felon, who served some number of years in prison in the U.S.

Click here to see the article.

Apparently, he returned to Jamaica to start the business that is currently the source of so much controversy.
My own take on it is that the recent revelations are bound to be damaging, but the problem is that the business is apparently having a difficult time in providing the double digit monthly returns that it promises its "shareholders."

The story I have heard is that people have been promised up to 18% returns each month. Anyone who is a student of statistics knows that based on simple compound interest laws alone that such returns are unsustainable.

It's the reason why Amway, Ponzi schemes and the like MUST have losers, because if everyone won, there would not be enough people on the planet to keep it going.

In like manner, CashPlus must spawn losers, because at that rate of growth, it would gobble up all the cash in the world in only a few years (someone else can do the math.)

This says nothing against Carlos Hill's integrity.  Instead, it's a law of the universe that 's bigger than any of us that just cannot be broken.

I fear the worst, and it would be a good move for him to declare that his investors should expect lower returns from this point on, to help cushion the blow they are bound to experience at this rate.

While returnees are welcome back here in Jamaica, as is their busines acumen, it remains to be seen whether or not this particular enterprise will stand the test of time. I am certain that his background must be giving his investors some pause for thought this morning, as they realize they are in business with an ex-con.


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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

She's Royal

The new song by Tarrus Riley called She's Royal is destined to be a classic.


The video is the first that I have ever seen that deliberately showcases Caribbean beauty, and Caribbean women with Caribbean bodies.




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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

We Are Not Unique

Recently I was reminded that we in Jamaica often fall into the trap of thinking that our culture is uniquely bad, and that life in Jamaica is uniquely hard.
As I mentioned in a prior post on Moving from First World to Third, most of the bad things that happen in Jamaica are not all that unique. Instead, they are the kinds of things that happen in every country around the world that have some of the same resource constraints that we have. It strikes me that if we had a bigger world view, we might relax a little and be able to see that our problems are for the most part, common one.
For example, every country around the world that sits between an illegal drug producing country and a consuming country experiences an upsurge in crime as it is used as a transshipment point. If all of a sudden, North Americans were to lose their appetite for illegal drugs, or if they were to legalize drugs, then our crime rate would drop immediately. Lives would simply be saved.
Jamaica sits half-way between Columbia and Miami.
Any country that grows to the point where it reaches full employment will experience an upsurge in traffic (if cars can be purchased freely) and an influx of illegal immigrants.
Trinidad has faced the first, and is about the face the second.
We need to gain a better understanding of the world, the problems being experienced everywhere. That will only come through better education.


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