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


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.


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.


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.

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.