Wrangling with fireworks

We ventured into the village yesterday to get the traditional New Year’s delicacies, olieballen and glühwein, essential ingredients for a gezellig evening by the log fire. On every street corner stood gangs of slouching and sullen yoof, sniggering and swigging beers, SMSing with a mobile in each hand, while at the same time lighting bangers from their cigarettes and tossing them into the road (that’s multitasking for you.). Some of the fireworks they threw were so loud that you couldn’t hear anything for a couple of seconds after the explosion. Amazingly, our three-month-old slept through it in her pram.

When we passed the sole shop in the village licensed to sell fireworks (actually a bathroom fittings store), we were amused to see a couple wrestling a huge cardboard box of fireworks into a tiny car that seemed to be held together by rust. It reminded me that the lower, or more “popular”, the neighbourhood, the louder and more frequent the explosions, in other words, household income is inversely proportional to expenditure on fireworks.

After a couple of glasses of glühwein, I came up with the following formula:

Fireworks formula


x is the household income
y is the quantity of fireworks bought
a is the number of “bangers”
b is the number of “sissy”, decorative fireworks
z is the decibel level
n is the number of males in the household
c is the number of crates of beer consumed
f is the number of fingers left on 1 January

… I know. Blame it on the glühwein

Another don bites the dust

Dem a loot, dem a shoot, dem a wail,
In Spanish Town

Another shooting, another riot, another curfew in Spanish Town, Jamaica’s former capital city, situated some ten miles west of Kingston. The town exploded in violence again yesterday following the assassination of Andrew “Bun Man” Hope, leader of the One Order gang. The leader of rival gang, Donovan “Bulbie” Bennett of the Clansmen, was killed by police last October (see post).

Hope was shot in his car when it was attacked by several unknown assailants wearing khaki, reported the police. The immediate suspicion was that the police themselves were behind the assassination. This led to an angry mob blocking off the street, refusing to allow police near the body, and which then went on to loot and burn the old courthouse, next to where Hope was killed. The mob refused to let the fire brigade through to stop the blaze. The police eventually managed to force their way to the car and pushed the crowd back to allow a tow truck to remove the car with the body still inside. Subsequently the police tried to remove other roadblocks set up by angry residents, only for them to be rebuilt once the police moved on. Suspected One Order gang members ran through the streets firing into the air, forcing shops to pull down their shutters. Public transport withdrew services, thousands of commuters were stranded and a curfew was imposed from dusk to 8:00 am.

Amid these almost familiar events, one detail slipped by all except the Gleaner newspaper:

The police confirmed last night that Uriah Matthews, caretaker for the court’s premises, was shot several times and then thrown into the fire.

And the so-called angry residents still wail about the gang leader’s death, claiming he was a peaceful and generous community hero! No one’s even bothered about poor Uriah Matthews.

It’s a well known fact that gang leaders, or dons, have gained support from their local communities through their largesse. Remember scenes from The Godfather II, when Fanucci of The Black Hand strolls through the neighbourhood like a lord, only to be killed by the leader of the next generation of mobsters, Vito Corleone. Similarly in Jamaica, more than two-thirds of the country’s murders are related to rival gang turf wars or vendettas.

The difference in Jamaica is that, since the 1970s, gangs have been allied to one of the two political parties, either the People’s National Party (PNP) or the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP). The alliances manifested themselves in rallying neighbourhood block votes in return for varying degrees of immunity. Huge profits from drug trading and transiting in the 1980s and 1990s gave the gangs more financial power and independence from politicians. More recently, faced with rising public condemnation of criminal association, most politicians have tried to distance themselves from their gang connections. As an example in this evolution, two years ago, the previous leader of the One Order gang was killed in a car owned by his successor and victim of yesterday, Andrew Hope. Local representative, Olivia “Babsie” Grange, had acted as guarantor for Hope’s purchase of the car. Last October, both Hope and Grange narrowly avoided assassination when the car they were both in was sprayed with bullets in Spanish Town. Yet last week I read of Grange’s dedication to a peace initiative in her constituency.

So where’s the truth? Have the dons and politicos divorced over irreconcilable differences, or are they just on a break?

Perhaps the gangs need to re-brand themselves for their former client base:

Need votes but too lazy or incompetent to win them? Just call 1-800-RENT-A-DON

Late night reading

Late at night, when everybody else is asleep, I reach under the bed and get out my favourite porn reading: The Rough Guide to Jamaica. Check out this extract:

A mile or so past Chukka Cove, a tiny paved road cuts inland towards Cranbrook Flower Forest, an exquisitely landscaped, 130-acre nature park with several grassy lawns, a fishing pond, a family of resident peacocks and a swift-running river with plenty of marvellous swimming spots. Run by a friendly Jamaican family who wanted to create a space where visitors and local people could retreat from the urban clamour, Cranbrook is an overwhelmingly peaceful spot (ooh). You can bring your own food and drink, or buy it from the tuck shop, housed in a pretty cut-stone building that was originally an outbuilding of the sugar estate which flourished here. To the right of the tuck shop is the fishing pond, a flower-wreathed man-made pool that’s well stocked with tilapia (aaah). Caught with the aid of a customized bamboo pole, it costs US$5 to have your fish scaled, seasoned, roasted and served with roast yam or rice and peas, etc. (oh yeah). The stretch of river next to the pond has several shallow pools ideal for splashing children. Beyond the pond is the largest of the lawns, and, to the left, a series of mesh-covered walkways sheltering a staggering variety of orchids and anthuriums (don’t stop!). Strategically-placed steps lead down to deeper pools, where the river gushes up from the rocks. Overhung with lush greenery, the deep turquoise water is cool, refreshing and absolutely clean, having been freshly filtered through the limestone (yes! yes! yeeeeesssss!!).


Other reading, from the Jamaica Observer, is less enchanting:

Four people were shot dead by gunmen in Kingston, yesterday.

One of the dead men has been identified as Roy Burgher, 68, who the police said was shot inside a bar he operated at 63 Mountain View Avenue, the community where one man was killed during Tuesday’s protests by the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party.

According to the police, a group of gunmen assault rifles and semi-automatic handguns, invaded 63 Mountain View Avenue, an impoverished community, and shot Burgher while he ate lunch at about 11.30 am yesterday.

Burgher’s daughter, wife and neighbours were all shocked by the brutal nature in which the elderly man was killed.
“What a set a brute them wicked,” one woman said as tears streaked down her cheeks.

A large pool of blood marked the spot where Burgher fell. He was shot in the head and the abdomen and died on the spot. A piece of food he had been chewing at the time, was still affixed between his lips when workers from the Maddens Funeral Home removed his body. Blood soaked his whitened hair.

“See the food all still inna him mouth, them boy deh wicked and no have no soul,” another onlooker said.


The customer (with a shotgun) is king

Antoinette is smoking again.

She works in the next office but the walls here are so porous that the smoke just leaks through. Our building was once Mussolini’s Ministry of African Affairs, a rather grandiose affair since his attempt to emulate other European colonial powers was limited to Abyssinia and Libya. The large offices of the colonial administrators have long since been divided into smaller units, almost all identical. Almost. It’s the details that reveal your rank. Short-term consultants don’t bother investing in decoration; at level 5 you can have carpet on the floor, but there must be a 2 cm gap at the edge by the wall — wall-to-wall carpeting is reserved for directors only.

VietatoFumareSmoking in the office has been banned for quite a few years – it still goes on behind locked doors with windows open and air freshener to hand (hey that was me when I was … 15). The law was recently toughened to ban smoking in bars and restaurants, causing surprise and confusion – that it should be applied at all and that it should be applied so quickly, unlike other legal processes. The first fine was issued in Naples, one minute after the official introduction of the law. It was also in crime-ridden Naples, however, that the chair of the traders’ association worried that asking a criminal to put out a cigarette “is no easy matter. I’m not risking getting kneecapped”. Yeah, that could be a demotivating factor.

Antoinette has now finished smoking. I know because the gagging odour of Wild Rose air freshener is now seeping through the walls.