DON’T BEG

Last week, President Barack Obama visited Jamaica to much excitement.

He’s a modern hero to people of African heritage everywhere. It was uplifting that, with minor exceptions, Jamaica’s endemic political tribalism was discarded in favour of an overwhelmingly positive welcome. It was heartening to hear our Prime Minister, in a post-arrival interview, admit that special sprucing-up was done and calmly standing by that policy. Maybe Sandrea Falconer, who has succeeded in wiping memories of previous Information Ministers’ flaws clean, was listening and learning.

My only discomfort resulted from the mentality of mendicancy entrapping almost every public comment leading up to the President’s arrival. Everybody had something Portia should ask President Obama to give us. Some suggested debt relief which is a nice concept and one which I support but a waste of time and other people’s money unless it comes with systemic guarantees that the extra fiscal space created won’t be frittered away as has been our decades’ long habit. Debt relief to a Jamaica still hidebound by Westminster is nonsensical.

All Portia’s policy wonks, consultants and advisors, including gratuitous advisors, spent weeks honing what her agenda with the President should be. I was particularly embarrassed by G2K, supposedly representative of Jamaica’s future, which produced a list longer than Schindler’s of things to beg for. Where’s our national pride? Where’s our commitment to hard work and discipline as the path to success?

It reminds me of my days at Sabina Park enjoying the crowd’s wit (the real reason to “watch” live sport). Whenever an opposition bowler essayed a loud appeal, the crowd’s riposte (in unison) was always “Don’t Beg!”

What if, when Barack Obama met Portia Simpson-Miller last Thursday, the conversation began like this:

PSM: Welcome to Jamaica, Barack. I hope you enjoyed your tour of Bob Marley Museum?

BO:    Thanks, Portia. I’m happy to be here. Last night was great. I’m a big fan. I still have every one of Bob’s albums.

PSM: I’m impressed. But, Barack, I know you’re pressed for time. It’s an honour and privilege to host a modern day hero. Please enjoy your short stay. If there’s anything Jamaica can do for you, either today or in the future, you need only say the word and it’ll be done.

BO (eyebrows raised):    That’s very kind of you, Portia, but I thought you’d be asking for my help.

PSM (smiling warmly):  No Barack, we’re ok for now. We’re fighting our way out of a fiscal hole but we’re on the right path and we’ll soon be fine. It’s much more important for Jamaica to help you or the USA however we can….”

Imagine the respect that would generate for our little nation? Do you think USA could EVER forget or marginalise Jamaica? How much MORE long-term goodwill would result than any short-term benefit from begging? The grand announcement of regional assistance in skills training was pre-packaged; non-specific to Jamaica; and unaffected by Thursday’s bilateral talks.

My recommended strategy isn’t driven by misplaced pride. Let’s be real. Barack Obama is a lame duck President who can do NOTHING for Jamaica. Completely frustrated at home by a viciously hostile Congress seeking to somehow erase his Presidency from history, all he can do is to burnish his foreign affairs legacy. He now realizes USA’s neglect of the region has permitted China and, to a lesser extent, Venezuela to gain significant footholds. Suddenly, he’s desperate to retrieve the situation.

1-2-3-4 Barackman a come
1-2-3-4 Barackman a come
1-2-3-4 Barackman a come
wid him lame duck a-lick him belly bum bum bum
.”

No point begging for anything. Not from Barack.

Ask him what de time him ask Hilary
Ask him what de time him ask Hilary
Ask him what de time him ask Hilary
wid him lame duck a lick-him belly bum bum bum
.”

For those of you who permitted cable boxes to teach your children Jamaican heritage, poor Jamaicans travelled to Panama (“Colon” to Jamaicans, pronounced like intestines) in the early 20th Century to work on Panama Canal construction. They made good money but no educational improvement. many returned with expensive watches hung from fancy chains. Predictably, on their return, folk music ridiculed them

1 2 3 4 Colon man a-come (repeat twice)
with his brass chain a-lick him belly bum bum bum.

Ask him what de time and he look upon the sun (repeat twice)
with his brass chain a-lick his belly bum bum bum

So, I owe the unknown author a deep and sincere apology.

Peace and Love

P.S. Thanks to Henry Anglin for his superb clarification/correction of my Colon Man story above. His full letter to the editor is reproduced below:

THE EDITOR, Sir:

With reference to the historical reference made by Gordon Robinson in his thought-provoking column titled ‘Don’t beg!’ in The Gleaner (April 14, 2015) viz:

“For those of you who permitted cable boxes to teach your children Jamaican heritage, poor Jamai-cans travelled to Panama (‘ColÛn’ to Jamaicans, pronounced like intestines) in the early 20th Century to work on Panama Canal construction. They made good money but no educational improvement. Many returned with expensive watches hung from fancy chains. Predictably, on their return, folk music ridiculed them.”

I wish to set the record straight on a minor inaccuracy expressed in the two sentences emphasised above.

false impression

The ridicule was not aimed at those who made good money and returned from Colon/Panama with expensive gold watches attached to gold chains. These persons were admired and probably envied.

It was, instead, directed at those who squandered their money and could not afford gold watches (or any watch, for that matter) but still wanted, on their return home, to appear prosperous. These poor souls resorted to buying highly polished brass chains (without the watch) and proudly wore them hanging from the fob pockets of cheap flashy suits in the manner of the real thing.

This ruse may have fooled some home folks for a little while until someone would ask them for the time, and not having a watch to tell the time, they resorted to guessing/estimating the time by checking the position of the sun in the sky.

This then gave rise to the song of ridicule which, incidentally, also commemorates an important but now somewhat forgotten bit of our history and the enormous contribution made at the beginning of the 20th Century by so many of our Jamaican forebears to the development of the region.

HENRY ANGLIN

jimmy_im10@yahoo.com

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