Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Hodder Resigns!

The College Council has just confirmed that this will be Janyne Hodder's last year at the helm of the College of the Bahamas:

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To the casual onlooker, it looks like a routine retirement decision, but to anyone with a sceptical mind, it looks like Hodder can't take the heat no more. She was hired a mere three years ago, and she was tasked with completing COB's transition to university status.

I can't claim to know how far COB's administration and the government have managed to push the necessary paperwork, but by looking at COB's campus, its students and its graduates, our estimate is that COB is lightyears away from becoming a real university, and anything the college or the government will do would be limited to calling it a university. Cheating on labels, how utterly surprising this should happen in this country.

If Hodder resigns before this project is completed, this equates to an admission of failure.

Also, while COB seems to have some control over the island's media, we have noticed that there is talk about the faculty going on strike. Two things come to mind: From the beginning, Hodder's relationship with the union was marred. And, this would not be the first time in Hodder's career that her faculty go on strike. Right now, COB should be negotiating a new industrial agreement with the Union of Tertiary Educators of the Bahamas.

If Hodder resigns before a new industrial agreement is signed, her tenure must be regarded as a failure.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Most Of My Kids Are Stupid...

"... so I teach them something wrong, because its easier."

That is *exactly* what a Bahamian grade one teacher at a Bahamian school (one of the expensive, private ones, too) told me today. I will grant her that too many Bahamian students come to school ill prepared, and do not possess the basic education that should be expected of kids upon entering grade one. That is the fault of their parents.

However, the attitude of a large number of our educators to settle for (below) mediocrity is not helping. It does not help these ill-prepared students to reach the next level. In fact, it reinforces an attitude that knowledge, that education is optional.

It is not! You are perpetuating the problems that are crippling our nation.

If you cannot be bothered to teach our children, then you are in the wrong profession. You tell me your family boasts a long line and tradition of proud educators. Would they be proud if they knew that you knowingly dumb down your students?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

On Rehabilitation

Triggered by my last column, "Working Girl," my mind wandered towards a very Bahamian practise, and that is potential employers demanding that potential employees produce "character certificates" issued by the Criminal Records Office as a standard procedure in any job application process. While I thought about it, I began to feel uncomfortable, because surely the idea behind this is that the potential employer will reject any applicant who has a criminal record.


Now ask yourself - and answer truthfully. If you were a business owner, would you hire someone with a criminal record? Most of you, I dare predict, answered in the negative, probably for good reasons. I can see how a school principal would not hire a teacher with a record of sexual molestation of minors. I can see how a bank director might have doubts about hiring a teller with a history of theft. This is a short list of crimes and jobs that have some things in common, but it is still fundamentally flawed.

It is flawed, because it is on the applicant's "character certificate," which means the police KNOW about it, and, excluding the possibility of a completely screwed up system, probably brought the case to the justice system; and the justice system dealt with it, either fining the offender a monetary amount or sentencing them to do time. This, however, means that they paid their debt to society, and now deserve a chance to start over, go past "Go" and collect $200.


Though I will admit that I would feel more than just uncomfortable if my child's teacher was a known sex offender and paedophile, I could construct examples where the offense committed and the job in prospect have little to nothing in common. Yet I believe that many of us are denied these jobs, too, because they have a criminal records. Bahamian society, and especially the Bahamian labour market actively discriminates against persons with criminal records. And the law allows this to happen.

That, however, is exactly the point that I find the most problematic, because if our laws allow this kind of discrimination against persons who have been through our legal, judicial, and penal system, then our law admits that our penal system fails at rehabilitating criminals, which means our judicial system is flawed, because somebody should not be let out of prison unless they are rehabilitated. In short: Our laws state that our laws don't work.

Without trying to sound like I condone crime, but do tell me... What is a former criminal supposed to do if they are rejected by the labour market? Rehabilitation cannot be government's responsibility alone. It is too important to be left to government. Rehabilitation has got to be OUR responsibility, and that means giving people a second chance.


For this to happen, I believe, we need to engage in discourse about legal hiring practises in the Bahamas. Maybe it might be worth considering to ask out legislators to help the aim of rehabilitation by passing a bill prohibiting employers to ask for "character certificates" as part of the application process, even if some lines of work may have to be exempted from this rule.

Maybe there are other factors, too, preventing former convicts from reentering society that also need to be addressed. I do not pretend to have all the answers, but I claim to have the right to ask questions, and I believe it is our duty to enter into a debate, because I know that we cannot truthfully say that all is well in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas in the year 2009.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Working Girl

Today, I would like to share a story with you. I thought it was rather funny in a way, but I can imagine that some of you might choose a different adjective.

During my lunch hour, I went to the Criminal Records Office on Thompson Boulevard to pick up my "character certificate." (Thinking about it, I find that an amusing term, too. Do I not have a character without it?) I had requested it online months ago, and the RBPF's website tells you processing would take about two weeks, but it took a little longer. That was to be expected. What I had not expected was that it would take me about one hour in the Criminal Records Office to finally get that piece of paper, for which I paid $2.50, for which I did not get a receipt even after requesting one. If it had been a hamburger, it would have been free at this stage.

While I was waiting there, a rather "interesting" (from a male perspective, at least) lady who had been standing in line walked up to the window as it was her turn now. As she was waiting at the window for the person behind it, whom you could not see, because Bahamian government employees refuse to show their faces to the public and therefore tint their windows to the extreme, her cell phone rang.

She took the call. She spoke rather loudly, and the entire waiting room could overhear her conversation. Surely, the police behind the window could, too.

Quickly, we learned that this was a business call - a potential new customer inquiring about services and rates. We very quickly learned about the lady's line of work, too, including services and prices. The latter I do not remember precisely for I was too surprised by the rest of her conversation.

The services she was offering - now remember, this was a loud cell phone conversation in a public office - included blow jobs, intercourse and anal... to one customer at a time or more than one... she could also offer the same services as a team with a colleague. Et cetera.

I found this rather amusing, because as far as I know, prostitution is illegal in the Bahamas, and she was standing inside the Criminal Records Office obviously applying for or picking up a "character certificate." Don't get me wrong now, personally, I think prostitution ought to be decriminalised, because you cannot root it out, and by decriminalising it you should at least be able to control some aspects of it, such as forced prostitution and human trafficking.

I also found it funny, because this lady was apparently comfortable enough in her own skin to have this conversation publicly, even though some of the jaws of those in the waiting area dropped. Audibly.

However, what I found most amusing about the entire episode was the reaction of the - uniformed - police standing by the door, who, when she left, asked her for her phone number. :D

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Securing *Their* Future

Having the PLP's convention coincide with the end of what will soon become known as the "first Travolta trial," was certainly an eye-opener, because it became evident that no matter who is nominally in charge of the government, and no matter how theoretically independent our judiciary is, the strings still come together at the claws the yellow and blue and black crab. I must therefore commend Senior Justice Anita Allen, for she refused to give in to the pressure, when she discharged the jury and ordered a retrial.

The FNM mocked the PLP convention, I fear out of a routine reflex, but was nonetheless spot on. Their statement read, "The PLP was unable to decide on a theme. One minute it was 'securing the future.' This means their own future and careers, certainly not the future of the Bahamian people." (The Bahama Journal, 22 October 2009, p. 1.)

How else is one to explain that at least one jury member sworn to not discuss the case with anyone but their fellow jury members informs the convention of the state of the ongoing deliberations? How else is one to explain that a political convention offers their thanks to god when Picewell Forbes announced to the hypnotised crowd, "Pleasant is a free woman, PLPs! God is good, PLPs! Pleasant is a free woman!"

Remember, Pleasant Bridgewater and Tarino Lightbourne are charged with attempting to extort $25,000,000 from John Travolta, and while it is true that one should be considered innocent until proven guilty, the question of innocence versus guilt was not what got Forbes excited, it was the prospect of Bridgewater walking free and continuing her PLP career.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Shakespeare in Paradise?

A few weeks ago, I was sitting at a local bar having a few happy hour drinks with friends and acquaintances, when I met one British expat. Someone in our round asked him how long he's been here, where he used to live before, etc. The usual routine. Then, when they were losing interest in his pre-Bahamas life story, they indicated so by making one final statement, "Well, it must have been quite a culture shock for you when you first came here."

His answer was nothing but brilliant. "No, I think of it more as a lack-of-culture shock," said he.

Immediately, some of the Bahamians present were quite offended and attempted a defense of their country, but to no avail, as quickly it became clear that we do lack a genuine, year-round cultural variety.

However, this is not to say that the Bahamas has no culture, and it is not to say that our cultural calendar does not have highlights. This week is one such highlight, when we are invited to - what are we doing, by the way... celebrate, partake, attend - the first "Shakespeare in Paradise" theatre festival.

Apart from the name, which I genuinely hope is ironic, because I would hate to think that the bright minds behind this festival have joined the scores of drones at the Ministry of Tourism who constantly reduce the Bahamas to a stereotypical paradise and refuse to confront reality, I trust that this programme will indeed satisfy a cultural appetite that is usually not well catered to in our islands. Therefore, I shall encourage my readers to go purchase their tickets.

And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Statistics

It is quite realistic to expect upwards of 90 (maybe even 100) murders in the Bahamas by year's end, as there usually will be an increase towards the end of the year. However, even if there is no increase, the number to be expected based upon the first 8 1/2 months of 2009 would be 88. That translates into a per capita murder rate of 27 per 100,000 inhabitants of this tiny nation. At this point, none of my readers are surprised, because these sad numbers are all too well known.

If I were to offer you the trip of a lifetime, an opportunity to visit Iraq... right now... would you go? Most people I have actually asked - hypothetically, of course, as I have no intentions of sending anyone halfway around the world - declined the offer. "I don't want to get myself killed," was a standard line.

Yet, taking things like nationality, ethnicity or race out of the equation, your odds of being killed right here in the Bahamas are higher. Iraq's murder rate for 2008 (and this included war, civil unrest and terrorism) was "only" 21 per 100,000 inhabitants. As far as I can tell, the expected figure for 2009 is slightly lower still.

Things that make you go hmmm...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bec's Bahamas Nightmare

It's been a while, I know, and I beg your forgiveness. Turns out, finding a topic to write about when all hell breaks loose at work, isn't always easy. However, this one, I personally find most interesting. Less for the article it was inspired by, but rather for the Bahamian reaction to it.

Apparently, Lleyton and Bec Hewitt bought a mansion in the Old Fort Bay gated community and have taken up residence in New Providence. Great. I *have* heard of Lleyton Hewitt, because some of my family are really into professional tennis (I'm not), and he is an Australian tennis star. Bec Hewitt is his wife, the article tells me. The article also suggests that she is a celebrity in her own right. Great. Bec who? Ah, Bec from "Home and Away." Home and what? Ah, an Australian soap opera. I repeat: Bec who? Home and what?

Let's look at some of the statements made in the article:

"... in reality, the 197-hectare "village" is a gilded cage, surrounded by spiked fences and barbed wire." Check. Old Fort Bay and similar gateed communities are gilded cages. (Though the residents' captivity is chosen and thus voluntary.)

"Just 25 minutes drive away, locals live in abject poverty in the slums of Nassau..." Check. 25 minutes driving will (if it's not rush hour) take you anywhere on New Providence, and there are areas we could justifiably call slums, where people do live in abject poverty.

"... neighbours warn that it's is a dangerous place blighted by crime, poverty and high unemployment." Check, check and check. Our crime rate per capita is shamefully high, and currently, unemployment is also high, caused not only by the current economic crisis, but also by the poor educational standards in the country.

"Armed robberies are commonplace, and last week a 34-year-old mother of three became the country's 53rd murder victim this year when she was gunned down metres from a church. A few days later two more people were killed." I didn't check the numbers, but do you seriously want to contest them? You may find out that we've gone way past 55 since August 28, when the article was published.

"... most of the residents are retired bankers and businessmen." Also true. How many 28-year-olds can afford a mansion in a gated community out West?

"Adding to her loneliness is the fact that while Lleyton is instantly recognised by the sports crazy locals, no-one has any idea who former Home And Away star Bec is." I repeat: Bec who? Home and what?

No, what's really disconcerting are the reactions that many Bahamians put as comments under the article, which have forced Lleyton and Bec Hewitt to declare in "The Tribune" that they never said any of this. They may not have, you will notice that the only direct quote in the article is from their gardener. But that's beside the point. Annette Witheridge got it quite right.

Bahamians are jumping to the defense of their country, claiming that the Hewitts and/or this article are "dissing" the Bahamas. Bahamians are either in active denial of the fact that we have a high crime rate, or they are delusional when they think that other countries with similarly high GDPs experience similarly high crime rates.

Bahamian reality is that everyone I know in Nassau has burglar bars. Bahamian reality is that everyone I know in Nassau either had their house broken into or knows somebody whose house was broken into. Bahamian reality is that everybody I know in Nassau knows at least one murder victim. Bahamian reality is that, even in the downtown area, women don't walk from a club to their car by themselves at night.

I sent out an e-mail to friends in the United States, Canada, Australia, and a number of European countries. Nobody has burglar bars. Nobody had their house broken into. Ever. (One person knew somebody who did though.) Nobody personally knew a murder victim. Everybody said, "Of course I walk to my car alone, and no, I am not scared when I do so."

Bahamians, wake up! Our country *does* have some serious problems, and no, this is *not* normal in the 21st-century (semi-)developed world!!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Thoughts on Marital Rape

So this a blog, and blogs are a reasonably new phenomenon of the twenty-first century. I never thought I'd be blogging about marital rape in the Bahamas, because I thought that, for all it's shortcomings, the Bahamas was still a country that likes to be seen as civilised, and that those Bahamians whose views were so utterly old-fashioned could no longer dominate public debate. I guess in hindsight, I was wrong. I ignored the signs. I ignored them every time capital punishment became the topic of discussion, for while it is possible to argue intelligently about capital punishment, in this country the debate tends to take on a special fervor, and the arguments for capital punishment, most of which have been proven wrong by the way, are usually archaic. I ignored the signs every time homosexuality is discussed, too.

In many ways, the debate about marital rape, and about the government's proposed law to declare marital rape illegal, follows similar patterns, though I have to admit that the enlightened side this time is more visible. At least. However, how politicians of the opposition can come out and argue against the passing of a law declaring marital rape illegal is beyond me. Never before have I made up my mind whom to vote for in the next election so early, because the PLP has, unfortunately, just disqualified themselves.

What amazes me is that the Bahamian public accepts that the self-proclaimed "experts," that is those who should have the answers on issues such as marital rape, are usually male, and more often than not either directly affiliated with the Church or at least use the Bible, a book that is roughly two thousand years outdated as their primary source to construct their case. Then again, some of these folks probably do know a lot about the issue of marital rape from a perpetrator's perspective; at least Rodney Moncur states that he "owns his wife." (Buckles. "Marital Rape Law Has Fools Rushing Into Debate." Bahamasb2b.com.)

Personally, I'd feel more comfortable in my own country if people used information provided by the Bahamas Crisis Centre to learn about the issue, if they have difficulties comprehending why such legislation is needed; the Bahamas Crisis Centre know about the matter from a victim's perspective, too. Instead, Bahamians look to the Church(es).

However, our constitution guarantees religious freedom, and we cannot run this country according to biblical law. Some would probably find that desirable, but there are many Bahamians, myself included, who would rather have a secular government and secular laws. Many Bahamians are abhorred when they hear about the Islamic sharia, yet they propose a Christian "sharia" instead. This shows either utter disrespect for the constitutional value of religious FREEDOM, or - I fear - total ignorance.

If we only bothered to look beyond our rather limited horizon, we would see that the Bahamas is quite isolated in this issue: "The current Bahamian law permitting forms of marital rape stands in opposition to the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women." (Brent Dean. "Bill to Outlaw Marital Rape Proposed." The Nassau Guardian.)

However, I fear that in our arrogance we will tell the rest of the civilised world that they are wrong... please wake me when we finally arrive in the twenty-first century.

Monday, August 3, 2009

That'd Be A Surprise...

So, Hubert thinks the shipping companies will "have to say good-bye to huge profits they currently rake in, when the container shipping port is transferred from downtown Nassau to Arawak Cay." I wonder what makes him think that. If Arawak Cay comes with higher operating costs, why would Bahamian shipping companies behave any differently to any other Bahamian business.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

On Social Envy

This petition below can be found on Bahamas Issues, one of the liveliest online communities of the Bahamian web. It is copied and pasted, so any spelling mistakes in it are the petitioner's, not mine. ;-)

While I myself am not a huge fan of gated communities, I believe this particular petition needs to be addressed critically, as it is based on ill-informed social envy, rather than sound argument. In fact, social envy seems to poison our society on many levels. Not only does it just turn originally argument-based debates on Bahamas Issues into opinionated quarrels, it also, to a degree, is responsible for a shift in priorities our society has seen over the past few generations, when Bahamians have become overly materialistic.

Petition for a Moratorium on Gated Communities

We are requesting a moratorium to be placed on Gated Communities in the New Providence. If not an outright ban for future communities from developing.

Gated communities promote social classism.
It says to the lower communities. we have a right to drive through your community at will. But because you are poor you have absolutely no right to drive through our community.

Gated communities often take prime properties and block access to Beaches,lakes and natural waterways.

Proliferation of gated communities will eventually cause a traffic
dilemma. for example San Sousi was threatening to become gated for some time now. if this happens this will force more commuters to cut through Elizabeth Estate and to utilize to already overly congested Prince Charles drive!!!!

Gated communities will promote a system of unfairness!! Why?
Because a license for a gated community cannot be granted to everyone.Everyone can own a Business but everyone cannot be a part of a Gated community. For example lets go straight down the Eastern strip. Suppose Elizabeth Estates residents want to become gated,then Colony Village and then Nassau East, Winton San Souci and all along that strip wanted to become gated.

Can you imagine the traffic disaster that would be incurred.
furthermore some request must be denied!! and How can we ever establish a fair system of granting and denying request for gated communities.

the hidden General rule will be higher class Communities will be allowed gated communities. lower class Communities denied!!
That can never be viewed as a fair system by a discriminatory one!!!

A road tax of $5 daily should be imposed on all commuters of Gated communities upon exit. Why? a Lyford Cay resident can drive through Bain town but a Bain town resident cannot drive through Lyford Cay. and most of the lyford Cay Residents are foreign!! Why shouldn't they have to pay for the right to drive on our public roads. while they in turn deny us access to miles and miles of Beaches,lakes and land on and island only 21 by 7!!!

Gated communities provide very little jobs for Bahamians!1 they hire mostly foreign workers with low skill level and the government does not seem to be concerned!!

Please join us in our quest to control this silent problem before it spirals out of control. Sign this petition!

The biggest problem, however, is that the petitioner does not understand what a gated community is. He compares Bain Town and Lyford Cay, and is obviously concerned about the fact that a Bain Town resident cannot take his car for a tour of Lyford Cay, whereas a Lyford Cay resident can easily drive through Bain Town. That is correct, but the petitioner needs to understand why. Lyford Cay is a private piece of real estate where many people came together and divided the large chunk of land into smaller plots where they built houses, and in between the houses these private individuals, coming together in the Lyford Cay Property Owners Association (POA), built roads - private roads. And a marina. And a golf course. And tennis courts. Then, they built a fence around it.

I have a fence around my lot. The street in front of my house may be publically accessible, but a resident of Bain Town (or of Lyford Cay, or of my subdivision for that matter) cannot take their car and drive up and down my driveway. We need to understand that the roads of Lyford Cay are in reality just that: over-sized, but private driveways that connect the public road, which ends at the roundabout, to the entrances of private homes. For this privilege, Lyford Cay residents pay a small fortune annually in real property taxes, which happen to be a little higher than those in Bain Town. For this privilege, Lyford Cay residents also pay a small fortune in fees to the POA, which uses these private funds to maintain the roads in Lyford Cay.

On top of that, Lyford Cay residents pay the same taxes and government fees and customs duties as the Bain Town residents, and the government then uses these funds to maintain (not terribly well) the roads in Bain Town. That is why every Bahamian (citizen, resident, tourist) can legally use these roads.

Other concerns the petitioner has: "Gated communities often take prime properties and block access to Beaches,lakes [sic!] and natural waterways."

Prime properties are usually taken (as in "sold to" or "bought by") by the person who can write the largest cheque, gated or not. Beach access is a valid concern indeed, though as far as I remember, none of the gated communities on New Providence block access to any beaches that once upon a time were easily accessible to the public. I may be too young to remember what Lyford Cay was like before it was Lyford Cay, but I remember that, in order to get to Old Fort Beach, you basically always needed a boat (or take a day-long hike through the bush). However, protecting beach access early in the planning stages of any new gated communities, should there be any planned, is a valid concern, but it does not warrant a moratorium.

Natural waterways. What natural waterways? The canals of Lyford Cay are man-made. Natural waterways? Lakes. Yes, there are a few on this island. The largest two, Lake Cunningham and Lake Killarney, are still publically accessible, and I see no current threat to this situation.

"Gated communities provide very little jobs for Bahamians!1 [sic!] they [sic!] hire mostly foreign workers with low skill level [sic!] and the government does not seem to be concerned!!"

Residential areas in general are not really the engine of employment in this nation, but I am not sure that gated communities hire mostly foreigners. Indeed, Lyford Cay has seen an increase in, especially, Filipino housekeepers and Haitian gardeners. However, there are still plenty Bahamian housekeepers, Bahamian pool, generator and air conditioning maintenance people, etc. employed in Lyford Cay. Is the petitioner seriously suggesting that a Bahamian housekeeper or gardener (if you can find one) possesses any more skills than their foreign counterpart? If so, why? And what for? And why is the wealthy person in Lyford Cay who employs the foreigner stupid enough to do so when they could have a Bahamian who is so much more qualified? Sorry, but this argument makes no sense.

No the whole petition is written from a position of envy. I can understand the envy. I would also rather live a more comfortable life in a nicer, bigger house. However, we cannot blame those who have achieved this level for enjoying this. What we can however, blame (some of) these folks for, is that through their grip on our nation's economic system, they continue to exploit the masses and hold them down, to ensure that most Bahamians will never be able to achieve even reasonable comfort and economic security. Honest work in this country, on all levels, is often too poorly paid.

The problem with social envy is the consequences one draws. Many Bahamians have decided to take the easiest approach: if I can't buy it myself, I take it without asking. The level of property crimes has steadily increased during my lifetime. Then, and this is the category this petition falls into, there are those who fight the "symptoms": if I can't have it good, I don't want nobody else to have it good either. Not very constructive, is it. Finally, and this is the discussion I hope to provoke with this blog, there is the approach that seeks to identify and remove the causes of social ills.

This is not an easy task. I do not pretend I have the answers ready. However, if we really want to move this country forward, if we believe that a better future is at all possible, then we must begin to ask the right questions, and stop being so bloody selfish.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Congratulations, Mark!

And congratulations, Anna-Lena, too! A Bahamian-German duo won this year's mixed doubles event at Wimbledon, the world's most prestigious tennis tournament. While doubles, generally speaking, do not attract as much attention as singles tennis (why that is, is beyond me), I have compiled a few news clippings for you to browse on this accomplishment of our fellow Bahamian, Mark Knowles: Associated Press, BBC, Bahama Islands Info, and an interview with Mark Knowles and Anna-Lena Groenefeld after the match can be found on the official Wimbledon website.


The triumph at Wimbledon means that Mark Knowles has now won every Grand Slam tournament on the professional tour (Australia 2002, US 2004, France 2007, Wimbledon 2009), and comes several years after a major Nassau daily (it wasn't the Guardian) has called him as "has been." Do they know the recipe for humble pie down on Shirley Street?

Mark Knowles, however, is not only a great athlete who puts the Bahamas on the map in the tennis world, Mark Knowles is also a model citizen. Every year in December, when the professional tennis tour takes a break, Mark Knowles brings a dozen or so of his friends from the tour to Nassau to play in a charitable, "for fun" tournament, which sadly receives very little attention and support from the general Bahamian public. Nonetheless, Mark Knowles raises considerable funds for a variety of local charities this way, and offers us the opportunity to see professional tennis live, instead of on TV only.



Mark Knowles' Wimbledon triumph came a week before our Independence weekend, which saw a Davis Cup tie played in Nassau between the Bahamas and Guatemala. It is sad to see that the Bahamas Lawn Tennis Association (BLTA) clearly still treats our country's best current tennis player in a fashion that made him cite prior responsibilities as an excuse not to play for his country. I do not claim to know what happened this time around, but just to give you one example: several years ago - Davis Cup-wise we were ranked very low indeed - the BLTA would insist that Mark Knowles, then ranked #1 in the world, skip a major tournament to come home and try out for the team... Maybe the BLTA wasn't following international tennis and had just read in the local paper that he's a "has been"? Anyway, this past weekend, the Bahamas lost the Davis Cup tie against Guatemala 2-3; the doubles event was a close call, we lost in five sets. Having a Wimbledon champion may very well have made all the difference in the world. This was, we will play in Zone III next year.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Miracle Whip

And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables...
John 2:15

In my cutting-edge research I now discovered the end of this tale, and the true identity of "he": "And then Bishop Murphy got on his knees and picked up the money, and greedily stuffed it in his garments. Only fools believed that kneeling he prayed to god, for Bishop Murphy only hid his contemptuous grin."

And he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave thanks, and brake them, and gave to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude.
Matthew 15:36

You may think the time of miracles is over, but "Bishop" Murphy procured a 2005 Bentley Arnage for $68,000. Hallelujah! (Fire up Google, try to match the price. I want a Bentley, too, but I seem to be unable to find a 2005 model for under 100k, in fact, most are well above that.)



A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool's back.
Proverbs 26:3

And a Bentley is for the Bishop's ass.
Proverbs 2009:6-7




What a duper!!!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

1,000,000 Trees... More or Less?

If you've read along here for a while, you have heard of the Bahamas Million Tree Campaign before. I support the planting of new trees wholeheartedly. Here's the catch though. I may be wrong, but I get the distinct impression that while we as a nation boastfully plant some new trees, we only create the illusion of actually adding a million trees to our islands' flora. In fact, I would be tempted to make a bet that despite the efforts of the Bahamas Million Tree Campaign, we still see a net loss of trees, if not throughout the islands then certainly on New Providence.

Before you remind me that New Providence is not the entire Bahamas, let me make a few points first. The vast majority of our country's population live on New Providence, and also the largest chunk of our tourists see New Providence, and get their impression of the country by looking at New Providence. Trees serve multiple purposes in this world. The goal of the Bahamas Million Tree campaign is to join a worldwide effort to reduce green house gases globally. However, trees are not just important measured on this global scale, which might allow us to argue that we could plant two on - insert name of random Family Island here - for every one we cut down in Nassau, rather, trees also help to improve the quality of our air locally, and trees are an important part of our recreational landscape.

So why do we keep cutting down trees in Nassau? The biggest culprit here is development, but I would seriously argue that development in Nassau has to stop. The island is overcrowded. It takes me 45 minutes to drive home from work; a six-mile drive. We have to barge in our water, and friends tell me that in the wettest month of the year, City Water failed to supply them with running water on numerous days now. The PM was - and I'm uncertain as to what the appropriate verb may be, probably "threatening" - that the Western end of the island will, in a few years time, be as developed as the Eastern end.

The undeveloped parts of Western New Providence are predominantly wetlands. Not only would large-scale development negate any effect the Bahamas Million Tree Campaign may have, it would also have a vastly negative impact on the island's ecosystem, and recreational opportunities. We need to see bush, swamp, beaches, etc. to keep our sanity on this rock. I don't want to live on Coruscant.

We are also cutting down trees for other reasons, and lately, there has been lively debate about the casuarina trees along Saunders Beach. Neil Sealy, a local researcher, has published his findings that casuarina trees, contrary to commonly held beliefs about trees in general, contribute to, rather than slow down, beach erosion. Undoubtedly, Sealey knows more about this than I do, however, I am a strong believer in second opinions, especially as I sometimes get the distinct feeling that a lot of Bahamian activists have singled out the casuarina as an invasive species, which it admittedly is, that we need to get rid of, because it endangers indigenous plant life. There are other invasive species of plants on this island, for instance palm trees and poincianas, yet I cannot imagine a Bahamas without them. There are also invasive species of the animal kingdom on this island, most notably humans. These humans' ancestors originated in Africa, Europe and Asia, and were so threatening to the indigenous humans that the indigenous peoples of the Bahamas are now extinct.

The controversy surrounding Saunders Beach, however, does not stop at casuarina trees. Larry Smith, a local journalist, advocates on Facebook "that the government re-route the road adjacent to Saunders Beach way [sic!] from the dune." This proposal conjures up several fears, the greatest one being that Saunders Beach, like so many others on this island, will essentially become a "private" beach with restricted or no public access, which repeats my earlier point about the recreational importance of all our island's landscapes.

Furthermore, the story of Saunders Beach, as far as I can tell, shows other signs of government's disrespect for its own people. The contract to cut down 66 casuarina trees along Saunders Beach was awarded to a foreign company, despite the fact that at least one Bahamian contractor applied for the job. If Bahamianisation is the law in the private sector, where you can only legally hire a foreigner for the job if you cannot find a qualified Bahamian to do it, then surely it ought to apply to government contracts, too. In fact, an expat working in the private sector will at least spend (part of) his salary locally, whereas a foreign landscaping firm will take all the money it gets paid for cutting down 66 trees back home with it.

This was pointed out to Larry Smith, along with the threat of the scenario that if "the road moves too far away ... Bahamian kids will have to get into a plane to see the sea." I am not sure which of the two posts Smith replied to, but he cried foul and accused the critics of playing the race card. Neither of these two criticisms mentioned or inferred race. Incidentally, these comments were made by a woman as white as Smith himself. My personal experience about people crying foul and falsely accusing others of playing the race card is that they have ulterior motives that they cannot share with the public, because it would expose them negatively.

Therefore, I suggest the following:
  1. Neil Sealey's research should be verified, preferably by scientists from within the community (e.g. COB), if they are independent enough of Sealey. If they are not, then we must bite the bullet and bring in foreign expertise, because beach erosion, air pollution, global warming and overdevelopment are all serious concerns for the quality of life on New Providence.
  2. Whatever the outcome of the study called for above, and whatever the recommendations to town and traffic planners may be, there must be no more beaches on this island that see access for the Bahamian public impeded.
  3. We must focus on planting new trees, and wherever possible stop cutting down existing trees, and that means that the government must begin to look at other development options. New Providence simply cannot take any more.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Guanahani

This week will be another short note only, advertising a Bahamian musical production which will premiere tomorrow at the Dundas on Mackey Street - "Guanahani."

Below is a description of the piece that can be found on the Ministry of Culture's website, and I hope that next week I can add my own two cents to it. For now, let me encourage you to go and see it, too, not because I think it will be enlightening from a historical perspective (in fact, I fear the opposite), but because I anticipate it to be a mood lightener, and a great way to support Bahamian creative expression. Sadly, when I went to get my tickets today for tomorrow, I could still choose almost any seat in the house. So come out and support local talent.



“GUANAHANI” is an original Bahamian musical theatre production with whimsical lines, catchy tunes and great dance numbers that presents the unofficial, unauthorised, unexpurgated, unpublished, unprecedented, satirical, true untold story of Christopher Columbus’ supposed discovery of The Bahamas on behalf of the European world.

This all Bahamian production will be a tribute to two of the countries leading icons, Andrew R. Curry I and James J. Catalyn and will feature the talents of the members of the four groups inclusive of drama, music and dance.

James Catalyn and Friends, in collaboration with The Allegro Singers under the direction of Antoine C. Wallace, The Diocesan Chorale under the direction of Andrew R. Curry and the National Dance School with choreography by LeKeisha Bostwick, all under the stage direction of Omar Williams, will present Catalyn & Curry’s “Guanahani” at the Dundas Centre for the Performing Arts, June 23rd through June 27th 2009 at 8:00 p.m. nightly.

History records that Columbus discovered The Bahamas and landed at San Salvador, (Guanahani), but does not record that Columbus was a bumbling idiot. Had he known how to get to the East Indies by a shorter route, then he wouldn’t have ended up in the West Indies, landing on the island of Guanahani in The Bahamas, claiming that he discovered America.

According to the Indians’ recollections of the discovery, their forefathers warned them of the things to come and how they would be sold to work in the pearl mines and be taken back to Spain to be paraded through the streets. But who believes in Indian folk tales? Incidentally, Columbus named the Amerindians he found in The Bahamas, Indians, because he didn’t know any better.

“Guanahani” tells the story as it is, or was, and sets the records straight. The musical is light, lively and entertaining and one will leave the theatre with a better understanding of the true, and up until now, untold and unabridged history of the discovery.

“Guanahani” was especially written in commemoration of the 1992 Quincentennial of Columbus’ discovery of the New World. Script and Lyrics are by James J. Catalyn, with Original Music by Andrew R. Curry I.

When the curtain goes up on Catalyn & Curry’s “Guanahani” at the Dundas Centre for the Performing Arts, June 23rd through 27th, patrons of the theatre will be treated to the rare experience with the collaboration of four of The Bahamas’ premier groups, James Catalyn & Friends, the Allegro Singers, the Diocesan Chorale and the National Dance School, in a major, all Bahamian production.

With Book and Lyrics written by James J. Catalyn and with Music Score by Andrew R. Curry, I. “Guanahani” documents the unofficial, unauthorised, unexpurgated, unpublished, unprecedented, satirical, true untold story of Christopher Columbus’ supposed discovery of The Bahamas on behalf of the European world. The lines are whimsical, in true Catalyn style and the tunes are catchy as only Curry can compose them.

This pre-independence production will set the tone for this year’s Independence Celebrations and cause us to reflect and take another look at what truly happened in 1492, from another angle. Guanahani will bring better meaning to Independence.

Omar Williams, director of Guanahani commented that, “the first time I read the script for Guanahani, I knew it was magic. The story is wonderfully written and the music is toe-tappingly beautiful.”
Musical Director and artist extraordinaire, Antoine C. Wallace, Founder and Director of the Allegro Singers said that it is a great honour for him to direct the combined voices of the Allegro singers and the Diocesan Chorale in the music for this production. Mr. Curry is a mentor of Mr. Wallace and has helped to guide Mr. Wallace’s early musical career. Musical assistants are Mrs. Sonia Pinder and Mr. Kaylen Jervis. Mr. Stephen Albury serves as President of the Diocesan Chorale, a leading choral group founded by Mr. Curry.

Ms. Lekeisha Bostwick, Choreographer for the production, expressed her delight in the involvement of members of the National Dance School. Ms. Bostwick who has worked with Dance Artist, Ann Renkin at the University of Tampa and also the Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre, said that she is delighted to choreograph the dance sequences for Guanahani.

Veteran actor Neil Cleare, plays the bumbling Columbus, Rose Barrett plays Queen Isabella and Kayus Fernander plays the court jester, Page. The men who sailed with Columbus on this discovery voyage are played by Charles Bonamy, Dion Johnson, Jonathan Farrington, Arthur Johnson, Omar Williams and Ricardo Major. The Indian maidens whom they “discover” are played by Catharine Archer, Veronica Toppin, Jennifer Badoo-Wallace, Onike Archer, Shireen Hanna, Bianca Beneby, Sonia Pinder and Taneka Thompson.


TICKETS:

Opening Night Gala, $30.00,
Regular performances, $20.00

The Box Office will open at the Dundas on Monday 15th June from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Telephones 393-3728/394-7179

Advanced ticket bookings may also be done at e-mail address: julcat61@hotmail.com.

Acklinsblue Companies/Acklins Airlines, Wildseeds Design and the Endowment of the Performing Arts are proud sponsors of this production.

*FURTHER UPDATES TO FOLLOW!!!*

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Save Our Turtles

This week's entry will be shorter than usual, as I'm having too good a time on a friend's boat in Florida; in fact, while I do hope to find time to write down my thoughts from time to time, the summer months may be for "research" rather than writing. ;-)


As we were cruising off Fort Lauderdale, my friend pointed out to me how there is a lot less sea weed floating around on top of the water than there was 10-15 years ago; he blames it on the Japanese, who are, so he says, harvesting it for "medicinal" purposes. There you go, bush medicine is a truly worldwide phenomenon. Of course, no Floridian or Bahamian is after the sea weed per se, rather, we hope to find fish underneath the sea weed. There are also a lot less fish these days than there were 10, 20, 40, 50, 100, or 500 years ago. My friend blames the Japanese.

I blame humankind, i. e. part of the blame probably goes to the Japanese. Part of the blame, however, also goes to the Floridians. And part of the blame goes to us Bahamians, too. Our fisheries industries, large or small, have never learned to be sustainable. Our leisure fishermen and women do not fish sustainably. Thus, our waters' supply of conch, crawfish, grouper, or turtle, just to name a few, is diminishing.

One of the problems is that we have no pragmatic quota system on how much we can catch, another that closed seasons are not enforced thoroughly enough, another that size limits are rarely enforced. Therefore, I have seen grouper being sold at the Montagu ramp during the closed season for grouper, I have seen people unloading their catch in marinas, and what I thought looked like shrimp were apparently baby lobster, etc.

However, the biggest disgrace is that we as a nation still allow the harvesting of our sea turtles. All four species of sea turtles that can be found in our waters are either threatened or endangered, and the problem is we do not seem to care. Last week, the Bahamas Sea Turtle Conservation Group hosted a candlelight vigil on Rawson Square as well as a town meeting at COB. 65 people attended the first event, about 40 the second, which is a shame because the organisers flew in Professor Alan Bolten from the University of Florida, one of the world's leading experts on sea turtles, probably *the* leading expert on sea turtles in the Bahamas. We learned a lot that night.

Parliament was in session, and many a politician walked past the candlelight vigil, but the only two MPs who came and spoke to the people about their ideas were two opposition MPs. Hubert, when one of the members of the Bahamas Sea Turtle Conservation Group tried to hand him an information leaflet, walked past and pretended she did not even exist. Mr. Prime Minister, may I remind you that you are an employee of the people of this nation, and when they have concerns, it is your job to listen!? I suspect he was busy dialling Rudy's on Cowpen Road, booking a table for a meal of turtle pie.

video

Monday, June 8, 2009

Driving in Paradise

As of late, traffic lights seem to dominate the discussion, certainly wherever motorists get together. I will not even attempt to get to the bottom of WHY so many traffic lights are/were not working over the past couple of months, because not only is it irrelevant, but there are also too many rumours abounding telling different stories, and as government is involved, I doubt we will hear the truth anyhow.

Whether or not the government chooses to outsource the maintenance of traffic lights to a private contractor, does not change the fact that ultimately it is the government's responsibility to ensure that they are working. If the government hires a contractor who cannot - for whatever reasons - do the job, then the government is at fault for hiring an incompetent firm. If, as some rumours suggest, the contractor refuses to continue fixing broken traffic lights, because they had not been paid for services already rendered by the government, then the government is at fault for not paying its bills. After all, the government will license my car if I turn up at the Road Traffic Department and fail to bring my money along.

Which ever way you twist and turn it, at the end of the day, the government has been responsible for fixing traffic lights ever since the first one was put into service on the corner of Wulff Road and East Street on January 9th, 1966. In light of the recent desaster, I find it almost humorous how Minister Neko Grant boasts about having signed two contracts (to the tune of $40,000 each) to fix a situation that should have never been allowed to become this bad in the first place.

This, by the way, is the real point I want to make today. Every year, I have to show up at Road Traffic to have my car "inspected" and to renew the car's license, as well as my driver's license, although the latter can be renewed for three years, too, should I choose to dig deeper into my wallet. Why?

I dare say the only reason we have this system in place is because the government uses this as a means of raising revenue. You may have noticed that if put inverted commas around the word "inspected." I did so, because I am firmly convinced that the way Road Traffic inspects cars does absolutely nothing to ensure the cars' road worthiness. The usual routine, as far as I remember right now, is something along these lines: front lights, indicators (front), horn, windshield wipers, rear lights, brake lights, indicators (rear). Usually, however, the inspectors cannot be bothered to go through the full routine, and choose a random sample of the above items. Last time I went, the truck in front of me had gaping holes where its front lights should be. Nonetheless, it passed inspection, as he was asked for horn, wipers, brake lights only. By they way, I went on my motorbike. I was asked for indicators, horn, and WINDSHIELD WIPERS! I could write endless paragraphs of what serious inspections look like in other countries, where it is, for instance, tested that the brakes actually work, or that the tyres have sufficient thread left, but I shall refrain, because, as stated above, this is not about road safety, but about raising revenue.

Similarly, the renewal of driver's licenses is about raising revenue, nothing else. There are countries where you get your license for life, there are others where you only have to renew them once you reach a certain age, to ensure that you are physically - and mentally - still capable of operating a car safely. Here, it is primarily a financial transaction.

In short, there are two sources of income for the government that come exclusively from this country's motorists. I would like to make the case that this money should therefore be used exclusively to provide these motorists with acceptable driving conditions. Looking after a country's infrastructure, and this includes roads (and therefore traffic lights, too), is one of government's first and foremost duties. This country's governments, PLP and FNM, have successively failed the public in this regard.

There are more revenue streams that could, and probably should, be earmarked for road improvements, and these include, for instance, the business license fees of taxi cabs or jitneys, as well as a lot of tourism revenue. Tourists, after all, use our roads, too, without having to pay many of the fees we as Bahamians pay.

I started with traffic lights, and I reiterate that point. If you have traffic lights, they ought to work, as otherwise they become a safety hazard, and resulting damages (to cars, building, or persons) are the direct responsibility of the government. I know of at least one case of a building downtown that was damaged as a result of an accident where two cars approached an intersection from different directions, and both of them saw green lights. The police therefore concluded that neither driver was at fault. Consequently, neither driver's insurance company would pay for the repairs necessary, and the owner of the building had to pay out of their own pocket. The owner, by the way, was a charitable organisation; you can imagine, their pockets ain't too deep. In my opinion, the government should reimburse both drivers and the building's owner, but you and I both know that this ain't gonna happen, unless one sues the government, and who can afford to do that?

Next point: potholes. (I thought about writing something about these, too, but they've been a nuisance in this country for so long now that me simply mentioning the word should say it all. Minister Grant, will you buy me new tyres and suspension? My current ones were messed up by the potholes your government is responsible for!)

Monday, June 1, 2009

On Pretty Ladies

When I started this blog about two months ago, I would not have dreamt that I would dedicate space to something as profane as the Miss Bahamas Universe pageant here. However, I was invited to go, and thought that maybe this would be a good chance to shed some preconceived notions I had about beauty pageants. Suffice it to say that did not really happen, and Miss I-Forget-Which-Island saying, "No, I do not think the swim suit competition is demeaning to women, rather I believe it gives us the opportunity to demonstrate our femininity," did nothing to convince me that a pageant was about anything but looks. Brains remained unused that night.

Also, please do not expect me to comment on Who-Should've-Won: Miss Bimini, Miss Harbour Island, Miss Paradise Island... Rather, I'd like to say a few things about the Who-Should've-Won CONTROVERSY. My amazement with the whole event really began when the first contestants at the Rainforest Theatre were eliminated, because the supporters of that girl then left the venue. They didn't leave quietly though. One obviously drunk fella pushed past me - and told me to eff off in the process - and hurled his glass in the general direction of the stage.

My immediate reaction was probably me wondering how he managed to get drunk in such a short time, when drink service was so slow that our table managed to order two rounds the entire evening. On a more serious note, it reminded me of how we Bahamians are really very often very sore losers. In some way, shape or form, this same ritual repeated whenever there were girls eliminated from the competition.

Therefore, when Miss Bimini was finally announced as the new Miss Bahamas Universe, I was glad to leave, too. From the mess at the valet parking you would think the Crystal Palace never hosted an event, so the hour I spent waiting for my car, I got to witness the discussions that were now going on outside. Everyone seemed to be arguing how Miss Bimini was not a worthy Miss Bahamas ("too short" or "nose too large" or "too dark" or "too bright" or ...), and of course everyone then had a million and one good reasons why their particular contestant would be the only one to stand a chance at Miss Universe in August.

Fine, there is always some bitterness when your team doesn't win, though I do find it hard to look at a pageant the same way I look at sports events. However, it was really the tone, the shrieking that was going on, the booing as some of the contestants (obviously not the three finalists) came out and went home, too.

There were other occasions when I thought that we are, by and large, sore losers, and I am not sure I know why, but looking at some of the reactions, I think it is mainly two things. One is the "black crab syndrome," where in an underachieving place you pull down everyone who may have a chance to rise above the rest of us. The other is some kind of anticipation of victimisation, where we actually believe that not winning will put us in any kind of situation worse than what we were in before the start of the competition.

In any case, we need to overcome this, and we need to overcome this quickly. If we present ourselves, as hosts, this immature in August, we're gonna look real stupid at Miss Universe.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Whitey Is Scared

The Bahamas' murder rate is alarming, and sadly this is not news for anyone reading this blog. The news outlets are keeping track of the year's murder count, personally, I don't. It's too high, but in my book, even one would be too high a number.

Today, I won't speculate as to what causes this small nation to suffer from such a high murder rate, rather I'd like to look at one particular murder that occurred on the island of New Providence last month. On Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009, Hywel Jones, a British expat banker, was shot, and later succumbed to his injuries.

Let me say this loud and clear: the murder of Hywel Jones is tragic, and killing a fellow human being is an atrocious crime. However, it was not just yours truly who lately got the impression that many in this community are outraged about this particular murder, that many in this community seem to think (and some even say so) that this particular murder is somehow "worse" than the dozens of other murders that occur all too frequently in our society.

One argument to support this notion is supposedly Mr. Jones' profession, as a banker he is - so they say - a member of the most "productive" section of our society. Ouch! Do you hear the slap in the face of nurses, teachers, and hard-working policemen, just to name a few. Granted, Mr. Jones' made more money than all those examples, but is he therefore a more valuable member of society? Who taught him his skills? Who cared for him when sick, and tried very hard to save his life after the shooting? And who is searching for the murderer to bring him to justice?

Sadly, as the title of today's column suggests, I think the outrage over Hywel Jones' murder is owed to the fact that most murder victims in this country are Black, and of these Blacks, most come from the lower strata of society. For too long, upper class Bahamians, particularly White Bahamians were complacent and thought that they were somehow immune to bullets, and that crime remained a problem only of certain segments of society. Now, Whitey is scared.

Now, White Bahamians realised that ever since 1967, they focused too much on their own economic well-being, but, as the economic elite of the country, participated too little in civic society. Once they could no longer control social and political development, many of them refused to even participate.

The crime wave we face today is not the result of the PLP's or FNM's actions in government, rather, it is the result of an unhealthy social construct with roots deep in the colonial era. For a change, it came to haunt the upper class. For a change, the victim was White. At this point it is irrelevant whether he was Bahamian or expat; Whitey is scared. Hopefully, this will serve as a wake up call for ALL Bahamians, and by that I do not just mean citizens, I mean residents, to work together to transform this society and bring about more civility.

May Hywel Jones rest in peace.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

On Historical Myths III

Maybe this is symbolic of just how little we pay attention to what goes on around us, but contrary to popular belief, the reason why we get the day off from work on October 12th each year has nothing to do with national heroes and everything with what happened in 1492. However, it is not Columbus Day. Instead, it is Discovery Day.

Those names have really done it to us. One group of very influential persons in this society campaigns loudly for a so-called National Heroes Day, but I suggest to you that none in that group are very much concerned about National Heroes, rather this campaign is designed to rewrite and falsify Bahamian history, cleansing it of our less glorious colonial past. You cannot do that. Our past is the only past we've got!

The National Heroes Day folks now tell us, and they have thousands of Bahamians convinced, that the government has "changed 'Columbus Day' into 'National Heroes Day.'" Mistake #1: Columbus Day is a U.S. American holiday, in the Bahamas it is Discovery Day. Why, if the promoters of National Heroes Day in all their self-righteousness are supposedly trying so hard to promote national(ist) pride, can't they get their facts straight? "Columbus Day" is what they call it in the United States, in the Bahamas, October 12th has traditionally been called Discovery Day. Sounds like someone is a proud Americanized Bahamian, which is tragic, because the difference between Columbus Day and Discovery Day is indeed of fundamental importance. Calling it Columbus Day honours the man, calling it Discovery Day commemorates the event. Throughout the world, events are commemorated, even if they have negative connotations, because humankind can - or at least should - learn from its mistakes.

The next point that Discovery Day bashers make is that Columbus did not discover the Bahamas, but that he was lost. That's a valid point. But actually rather irrelevant. On October 12th, 1492, Columbus landed at San Salvador, sailed around the Caribbean some more, and returned to Spain, where he told the whole of Europe about his discovery of... of what? He thought he was in Asia, but Asia did not need discovering as far as Europeans were concerned. What Columbus discovered was that you could sail across the Atlantic Ocean and find land on the other side, that European ships were sturdy enough to last the journey, big enough to store enough food and water for the journey.

As news travels fast, soon the entire Old World (Africa, Asia, Europe) knew about Columbus' travels. Sure, it would take a little longer before the Old World realised that it had in fact found a New World that had previously existed without contact to the Old World (instead of a convenient route to Asia), but there can be no doubt that this event changed the course of history since. This discovery (or whatever term you prefer, but for the Old World, it was a discovery, and today, most people in the New World are descendants of Old World peoples) brought with it a lot of pain and suffering, such as the death and enslavement of countless Native Americans and Africans, but there were some positive aspects, too, such as the exchange of crops (maize, potato), which have alleviated the famines in the Old World and have saved many from starvation. Furthermore, the United States, for all its shortcomings and mistakes, has been an inspiration for millions, and has done much to promote democracy around the world. Who knows how World War II might have ended, had it not been for the involvement of the U.S., even before Pearl Harbor.

My point is simple. October 12th, 1492, is of fundamental importance to Bahamian AND World History. Therefore, it should be recognised. It is now, even if you may not believe me and the National Heroes Day crowd has you fooled. Don't believe me? Check the Government's own website: http://www.bahamas.gov.bs/bahamasweb2/home.nsf/vContentW/E33CDCC935A93A60852571ED004B668D!OpenDocument&Highlight=0,holidays (this document was last updated 25/02/2009)

In all likelihood, it does look like sooner or later October 12th will indeed become National Heroes Day. This strikes me as short sighted "negative" nationalism, i.e. a nationalism that defines itself by what it is NOT... NOT European, NOT colonial. And while these may no longer be our present, they sure are our past. A more "positive" nationalism, however, would find ways to celebrate the new Bahamas, without rejecting its history.

A 2007 article in the Bahama Journal raises some interesting points: Then-Director of Culture Nicolette Bethell points out that it still needs to be decided whether National Heroes Day, even if it is on October 12th, will replace and thus abolish Discovery Day, or whether National Heroes Day will be an addition to the date, meaning the two would coexist. Moreover, a minority report to the House of Assembly recommended to keep October 12th as a day to commemorate the above mentioned important event in our history, but to rename it Encounter Day, which would indeed be an good way to solve the apprehension caused by the word "discovery." For National Heroes Day, the report recommends the creation of a new holiday, which might be considered fitting, as one could question how honoured a national hero might feel if awarded a recycled holiday. The report stated, "that January 10, the anniversary of majority rule, be named National Heroes Day." Another fitting candidate for National Heroes Day could be April 27th, also known as Black Tuesday. Fred Mitchell once recommended making it a holiday, I agree with him - for once. ;-)

Monday, May 11, 2009

On Historical Myths II

Last month, I attended the grand opening of the Clifton Heritage National Park, and I was appalled at how brazenly a politically motivated clique uses this historic site to distort and falsify our history. In typical Bahamian fashion, the ceremony was very church-heavy, even though I fail to see what religion has to do with a heritage site, and, in typical Bahamian fashion, the ceremony was being monopolised by politicians.

On the podium sat: Patty Roker (as MC), C. B. Moss, Jacinta Higgs, Kendal Wright, Perry Christie, Charles T. Maynard, Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, Earl Deveaux, and Arthur D. Hanna. Except for the MC all politicians (remember, C. B. Moss did run in Bain Town). What surprised me, is that the park's Board of Directors has two professional historians on it, Keith Tinker and Gail Saunders, who were relegated to the audience. There were at least two other historians in the audience, both lecturers at COB. No speech time was granted to any of them.

Instead, we were being lectured on Bahamian history by politicians; even Earl Deveaux, Minister of the Environment, whose stake in Clifton should be the environmental aspects of the park, chose to talk about history instead. Sadly, none of these folks did their homework, and butchered Bahamian history, getting lots of crucial facts wrong. The least worst of the lot was probably Perry Christie, whose historical speech was alright, though not flawless, but who then used the majority of his time to promote his own agenda. For instance, he "encouraged" (to put it politely) the historians in the audience to write history books about great Bahamians... such as... Perry Christie. Oh, the modesty! Vanderpool-Wallace's speech was also free of mistakes, but that is hardly surprising as the Minister of Tourism avoided facts altogether.

At some point halfway through the almost two-hour ceremony, the Governor-General was asleep on the stage. I wish I could have joined him in the Land of Nod, but I was getting too annoyed at the instrumentalisation of our history to suit political agendas. I was also getting annoyed at the butchering of history due to ignorance or negligence. The programme booklet of the event is full of mistakes - spelling, grammar, and historical fact - and some of these mistakes clearly accommodate a certain agenda, whereas others just prove once more that no government agency in this country uses due diligence when producing such a document.

About the Lucayans, the booklet writes, "Thousands of years before Columbus arrived in the Bahamian archipelago, Native American peoples thrived on these islands." Every child remembers that Columbus first came here in 1492, and while historians and archaeologists do not all agree as to when exactly the Lucayans first came to the Bahamas, estimates put it at 900-600 years prior to Columbus, not "thousands of years."

Furthermore, the Lucayans are called a "highly developed culture," and while this may be polite and politically correct, the Lucayans were, even compared to many other Native American peoples, technologically rather primitive. The booklet also perpetuates the myth that the Lucayans were a "peaceful," almost passive people. This has been debunked by archaeologists, amongst them Michael Pateman, who works for the Antiquities, Monuments and Museums Corporation of the Bahamas (AMMC), a government agency. They should therefore, know better.



About the Europeans, the booklet seems to suggest - even though it does not do this explicitly, but only by omission - that they first came to the Bahamas after the American War of Independence in 1783. However, the Loyalists were of course not the first Europeans to arrive in the Bahamas. I will give the Clifton people that much credit though, and admit that the Clifton site certainly only became important during the Loyalist era.

About the Africans, the booklet goes over the top, and informs us that enslaved Africans settled in the Bahamas "from the early 1500's." Considering that historians such as Gail Saunders reject the idea that the Spanish ever settled here (though some historians suggest that they did at one point create a settlement on Cat Island, maybe even Long Island), and that the first lasting colonial effort began with the Eleutheran Adventurers in 1648, this suggestion is ludicrous.

All these blunders are probably genuine screw-ups, mistakes made by people who don't know any better. The big falsification of history at Clifton, the creation of yet another historical myth, concerns two rock structures in the area. First, there is a set of steps carved into the rock, leading to the ocean. Despite being aware of evidence to the contrary, the park authorities perpetuate the story that these steps were carved by slaves into the rock, that the area at the bottom of the stairs was used as a harbour, even during times of piracy a century prior to the settlement of Clifton by the Loyalists, and that slaves were landed there who had come straight from Africa to be sold at the market in Nassau. (Whatever happened to Nassau's fine harbour, the primary reason why Nassau became the capital in the first place?)

Furthermore, as an act of passive resistance, so were are made to believe, the slaves shaped the gap, the opening in the rock, to match the shape of the continent of Africa. Given the slaves access to education, it is highly unlikely that they would have been familiar with the shape of any continent. Furthermore, most slaves identified with their particular part of Africa, not with the continent as a whole. The idea of Pan-Africanism is a much newer concept made possible only by the destruction of these individual, particular identities through generations of enslavement and colonial rule.

The steps in question were in fact carved in the early part of the twentieth century, about 80 years after Emancipation. They were carved for a movie production of Jule Verne's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." When they were carved, they did not even lead to the ocean, rather they led down into a cave (known as "Jane Gail's Cave" after the female star of the film), and some time during the last century, the cave then collapsed so that these days the steps do indeed lead to the ocean.



If you don't believe me, I recommend a trip to the National Archives on Mackey Street. You can read all about it in the 1924 Tribune Handbook, the predecessor of the modern-day Bahamas Handbook.

The second stupid myth that is being perpetuated at Clifton concerns a pool carved into the rock right by the waterfront. We are made to believe that this served as a "bath" where William Whylly force-washed slaves who had just arrived from Africa and were filthy due to the horrible conditions on the slave ships that ran the Middle Passage. In fact, the pool served as a pen where turtles were kept alive (and thus fresh) after being caught. Furthermore, Whylly, who purchased the Clifton plantation some time between 1812 and 1815 (exact date unknown) could not have received new slaves from Africa, for the trans-Atlantic slave trade was abolished some years earlier, in 1807.

The people who run Clifton know this. However, a good story and a nationalist sentiment are obviously more important to them than the truth. Clifton, we are told, was taken away from greedy developers in the 1990s, and saved for the people. Sadly, the powers that be must have felt that the people cannot be allowed to have the true Clifton, so they have (re-/mis-)interpreted it for us instead. I don't want this Clifton.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

On Historical Myths

"A people without the knowledge of their past history,
origin and culture is like a tree without roots."

- Marcus Garvey

Some might argue, that the above quote illustrates the importance of history to a people's identity, however, the keyword is not history but KNOWLEDGE. Garvey may have advocated that Black people from the Americas should move back to Africa, but that was nearly a century ago, and especially the Caribbean, and for the purpose of today's blog entry, we shall extend that to include the Bahamas, was still in the firm grip of European colonialism. Nowadays, however, the Caribbean is made up of a large number of - de jure - sovereign states, with only a small number of islands still under colonial status. The question begs to be asked, are former colonies turned sovereign states identical with nations? Is there a Bahamian nation?

Ernest Renan, a French philosopher of the 19th century, attempted to find a definition for the concept of a nation in his famous lecture at the Sorbonne in 1882, because nations "are something fairly new in history." Renan views the modern nation as the "historical result brought about by a series of convergent facts" which created UNITY, and he gives examples of the different factors contributing to the shaping of unity in various nations, but concludes that there is no such thing as a generic toolkit for nation creation: "A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things, which in truth are but one, constitute this soul or spiritual principle. One lies in the past, one in the present. One is the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories; the other is present-day consent, the desire to live together, the will to perpetuate the value of the heritage that one has received in an undivided form."

Maybe this is what Garvey meant above. I will not argue that Bahamians display a "desire to live together," though I frequently get the impression that this is owed more to an obvious lack of alternatives, but do we as Bahamians possess - in common - "a rich legacy of memories"? And if we do, are we aware of it, do we KNOW about it? If we don't, we are "like a tree without roots." A tree without roots is a weak tree. Are we a weak nation?

Timothy Baycroft, a Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Sheffield, wrote an interesting book entitled, Nationalism in Europe, 1789-1945, in which he outlines how various European nations were constructed: "A key element ... is the role of history in the formation of the national image. Every nation ... has a strong identification with the past. ... The first point to note is that national sentiment and nationalism do not arise instantaneously; they must be cultivated and encouraged until they gain widespread acceptance by the mass of the population. ... This process requires a great deal of time, using a carefully edited version of the history of the nation which highlights certain key episodes and events and downplays or ignores others. The creation of such a national image requires a selection and interpretation of historical facts, sometimes even a distortion of these facts." (p. 24.) The selection made represents "the way the promoters of the nation wish the nation to be seen and thought of." (p. 28.)

If Renan argued that unity is an important factor in the genesis of a nation, and if Garvey argued that knowledge is what gives it a firm hold, then I would argue that we know too little of our history, and what we *think* we know often results in divisiveness rather than in unity. There are many examples to illustrate this point, but the first one that comes to my mind is what I tend to think of as the Bahamas' biggest historical myth: the story of Collins Wall, which most schoolchildren in Nassau are still being taught today, and which surfaces every so often in the public debate.

On April 22, 2009, the Tribune published a letter by Aaron Roberts, who tells us that Mr Collins built a wall around his property because he was a racist, along the lines of the common fairy tale that he built the wall to separate the Black folk in Bain and Grants Town from the White folk in Centreville. Roberts wrote, "Whatever his intentions, the fact is that a white man put up a wall which was viewed by black people as a means of segregation. ... Find something of interest to write about please and stop trying to make heroes out of racists."

The problem is, that when the wall was built, Centreville was not a white subdivision, rather it was the private estate of Mr. Collins, and Collins wall was an enormous backyard fence. Would this, according to Mr. Robert's logic, make everyone a racist who has a fenced in property and whose neighbours are of a different race? When the wall was built, the Bahamas was undergoing some tough economic times, as the bootlegging trade was coming to an end, and the Great Depression had brought down the overall economy, too, and the Bahamas had been hit by a very serious hurricane, which had even turned the sturdy old Fort Montagu into a pile of rubble.

So, indeed, one might acknowledge that the construction of a large backyard fence creates some sorely needed jobs for Bahamians, and, he didn't just build a wall. A part of the property, which stretched from Shirley Street almost to Wulff Road, was turned into an orchard to grow produce for the local market, which created even more jobs. Is, according to Mr. Robert's logic, everyone a racist who builds a wall around his business and whose neighbours are of a different race?

So why is it that the story of a man building a barrier around his property was turned into a story of racial segregation? Collins died in 1946, and in 1950, his property was sold off. An article in the Nassau Guardian (August 10, 2004) by Stephen B. Aranha informs us:

On the largest portion of his estate, Centreville Subdivision was created. ... the western portion of the wall was not removed. This decision was deliberate, and this time the motivation must indeed have been to deny easy access to the Over-the-Hill population. ...
Still, the motivation was most likely not racist, as some might think; white and black Bahamians alike bought lots in the subdivision and lived there. The decision to preserve the wall was more of an "elitist," status-driven effort, as it would prevent too much traffic in the area, making it more attractive for its residents, and suggest a sense of safety. However, defying the plans of the developers, ladders were put up all along the wall. This enabled Over-the-Hill people to enter Centreville without having to go via East Street. Especially people who lived Over-the-Hill but worked in Centreville, many of them as maids, appreciated this "shortcut" on their way home.
... On March 29, 1963, The Guardian reported: "Collins Wall was again broken through by the Public Works Department yesterday. The break, the third since the wall was breached, was made at Seventh Terrace and will join Frith Lane and Toothe Shop Corner with Collins Avenue in the East. Two more breaks will follow in a few days ... Decision to make the through roads followed closely upon announcement of a petition signed by 110 persons who live nearby."

... Collins Wall, which "had divided some (residents) from their work, children from school, and customers from shops," was breached, and one of the most outspoken protagonists bringing about this development in 1963, was a young politician, who would eventually break down many more barriers: Lynden O. Pindling.

There is no use in denying a long history of racism in the Bahamas, but Pindling himself not only broke down barriers, but created new ones, too - mental barriers this time around. These are strong and have lasted decades now, as we saw during the recent controversy about John Marquis' "Insight" columns in the Tribune. Protesters were incapable of articulating any criticism about WHAT Mr. Marquis had written, they simply took offense THAT he - as a "foreigner" no less - dared to say ANYTHING about the "Father of the Nation" that wasn't complimentary.

Black and White Bahamians must enter into a dialogue about racism in the Bahamas past and present if they want to move forward and create a true Bahamian nation, but for the sake of unity and knowledge, let us put myths such as the one about Collins Wall to rest.