Ezekel Alan

This blog is about: cotton candy, cold milo, midgets, mangoes, sex, aged rum – everything but writing my next book

Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean

I have a short story coming out next year. It will be published by Akashic Books as part of an anthology of Caribbean short stories. Look out for it.

Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean | Akashic Books.

Description

Featuring the 2013 Commonwealth Prize–winning story “The Whale House” by Sharon Millar.

Akashic Books and Peepal Tree Press, two of the foremost publishers of Caribbean literature, launch a joint Caribbean-focused imprint, Peekash Press, with this anthology. Consisting entirely of brand-new stories by authors living in the region (not simply authors from the region), this collection gathers the very best entries to the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, including a mix of established and up-and-coming writers from islands throughout the Caribbean.

Featuring these brand-new stories:

“The Whale House” by Sharon Millar (Trinidad & Tobago)
“A Good Friday” by Barbara Jenkins (Trinidad & Tobago)
“Reversal of Fortunes” by Kevin Baldeosingh (Trinidad & Tobago)
“The Monkey Trap” by Kevin Hosein (Trinidad & Tobago)
“The Science of Salvation” by Dwight Thompson (Jamaica)
“Waywardness” by Ezekel Alan (Jamaica)
“Berry” by Kimmisha Thomas (Jamaica)
“Father, Father” by Garfield Ellis (Jamaica)
“All the Secret Things No-One Ever Knows” by Sharon Leach (Jamaica)
“This Thing We Call Love” by Ivory Kelly (Belize)
“And the Virgin’s Name Was Leah” by Heather Barker (Barbados)
“Amelia” by Joanne Hillhouse (Antigua & Barbuda)
“Mango Summer” by Janice Lynn Mather (Bahamas)

and others!

A pan-Caribbean anthology of original short stories culled from the very best entries to the Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

Forthcoming: 4/1/14

$15.95 $11.96 Not Currently Available – Check Back Soon!

 

Book Club – CaribLit September feature

Ezekel Alan’s first book Disposable People, winner of the 2013 Commonwealth Writers Prize, describes a tough environment in a turbulent period in Jamaica’s history.  Based on actual events and set in the 1970’s, Disposable Peopleconjures gritty images of poverty, violence and bitterness through the eyes of ten-year old Kenneth Lovelace. Readers bear witness to Lovelace’s sojourn from the naïveté of his childhood to the harsh realities of his adult life.Disposable People challenges readers emotionally, causing them to reflect on the socio-economic divides in their own communities. Reviewers have called it gritty and rousing. Alan says he would add “disturbing, raw and real.”

Read more here: Book Club – CaribLit.

Some recent interviews

On Susumba: Ezekel Alan on writing, Jamaica, and Disposable People

http://www.susumba.com/books/interviews/ezekel-alan-writing-jamaica-and-disposable-people

 

On ALLI: How I Do It: Ezekel Alan. Top Tips from Top Indie Authors. – See more at: http://selfpublishingadvice.org/blog/how-i-do-it-ezekel-alan-top-tips-from-top-indie-authors/#sthash.YuZTMM1u.dpuf

http://selfpublishingadvice.org/blog/how-i-do-it-ezekel-alan-top-tips-from-top-indie-authors/

 

And recent Amazon and Goodreads comments I found interesting:

Ingrid Persaud (Amazon)

I found this a difficult but compelling read. It plunges you straight into a world of searing poverty without plot or guidance that this is a novel, memoir or art-as-writing. But stay with it and you will soon adjust and trust this unique, authentic voice as he navigates a past of haunting brutality with equally brutal honesty. And it is a generous work because although the author might have been a disposable man he has escaped – a miracle of will and education – and could have remained a safe distance. Instead he chose to return – to confront the hateful place and to tell the wretched stories of Georgie and Cookie and Tall Man and Garnet and all the others who remain either disposable or invisible to society.

Duczi (Amazon)

Readers have said this book was raw and pessimistic etc, and it is all that, but it is also incredibly funny, funny you laugh out loud. It is not for the faint hearted for sure, or for people who expect pretty characters with happy endings saying life sucks they want to read about more pleasant things in books. It is incredible to be faced with the fact how much hardship some people have to face growing up just because of the pure luck or “unluck” of having been born to a certain place, but the book does have a message that yes, it is possible to get out of there, it is possible to become a great writer and survive a childhood full of hardships. I have always liked cynical sense of humor; and I have always liked survivors.

Paul (Goodreads)

Powerful – initially hard to get into, as the style is of a memoir, but ultimately well worth persevering with. Left me hungry for more – a proper voice and a story needing to be heard.

Karen Lloyd (Goodreads)

I love how refreshingly honest this novel is. It is not an immediately-fall-in-love type of read but soon enough you come to appreciate the bluntness of the language. All in all it is a rewarding experience, traversing that ‘hateful f**king place’ with Kenny.

Katalin (Goodreads)

This book is awesome!

 

I love the simplicity of this last 5 star review.

One love

Zekes

Losing touch with one’s roots

It is a clear sign of how much I have lost touch with my roots. Yesterday, a nasty, inconsiderate bird offloaded its burdens on me while I was on the way to the office. I was wearing a suit, and a fine one. If something like this had happened thirty years ago I would have saved my lunch money from school and, on my way home, stopped by the local Dropon man to buy the numbers. I would not have hurled expletives at disappearing feathers and cursed Noah for bringing two birds on-board the ark.

If my palm had itched me terribly thirty years ago I would have tried to cajole my cousins into playing marbles for money, knowing that luck was with me, and I was sure to win. When my palm itched yesterday I worried about bacteria in the metro and on the rails I had held.

It’s more than the Oceans that separate me from my homeland now. And it’s much more than time. I no longer know what leaves are good for what ailments, how to smell death on someone soon to die, what to do if I want to see ghosts and such. I’ve been so long out of the ghetto that I can’t even fake being ghetto any more. The culture of my old community feels like an alien insect that’s been extracted from beneath my skin and taken away for study.

This is perhaps why I never saw it coming. Why I didn’t realise what the bird shit and itching palm portended. You may have seen the news by now – Disposable People was, first, short-listed for the very prestigious Commonwealth Book Prize 2013. Then it won the Regional Prize for the Caribbean!

1467922730_frontcover

Regional Winner- Commonwealth Book Prize 2013

The funny thing about it is, when I was writing the novel it felt more like a catharsis than a work of art. A purification of the soul, getting rid of memories, superstitions, wickedness, rottenness and things unspoken. Now a panel of international judges thinks that the purge was good. Well blow my fish!

All I can say now is that if I see a fat woman sneeze today I won’t be thinking of Avian Influenza; I will be dragging my skinny negro ass and watermelon belly out on  the town tonight to see just what else Destiny has already decided.

book-regionalwinner-2013

Who knows, I already see an email in my inbox from a potential agent…

A reader’s perspective

English: Amazon Kindle e-book reader being hel...

I finished your book (Disposable People) on the train home last evening (then started Pao). I had lots of laughs throughout your book as well as despair and disgust. The treatment of dogs even shocked me. A good deal of your story does help me understand the root of Jamaican attitude toward sexual relationships and life in general.

Of course there are exceptions to any generalization. I know three loving men and fathers who raised their children alone when the birthmothers took off to the States. They are terrific fathers. I know an old fellow who pass a few years ago. He was married to the same woman for over 50 years. They never had children and he never had any elsewhere. He worshiped his loving Birdie (as he called her). Franklin was his name and he worked at the resort I frequent since it was built in the early 70’s. He was in his late 70’s when he died. I miss him and his stories. That is where I first heard of many Duppy stories and learned the proper way to roast a breadfruit.

Very strange fruit (Bread Fruit)

Over all I enjoyed reading your book. One thing the books lacked was answers. Damn man I need some answers. How the heck you get out of that horrible place? What takes you around the world? What kind of consulting? What happened when you did meet your father? Why semicolon? Look forward to your next books. I found your book while looking for historical novels about Jamaica on Amazon…seems to be a shortage of them.

- Anita

 

Yawn

Just waking up, not sure how I will face the New Year with this tendency to procrastinate. There’s plenty to be done, but I mainly seem to get through the slothful and sinful parts of my to-do list. I drink too much rum, watch too much American tv, eat too much of the kinds of food that are not good for me, and still feel unhealthy emotions towards the Republican Party.

Republican Party (United States)

Republican Party (United States) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And, if truth be told, in the past few weeks I have ignored my blog and second novel but not the bar and the football games.

But the New Year is approaching fast and I will, once again, promise myself to become a new man. As soon as I am fully and properly awake I will make my new resolutions, or try to find last year’s list. This time will be different! I will be the kind of man that my lady wants (needs?) me to be!

Goal number 1 for the New Year has got to be “Become Un-lazy”. Not sure what potion I can buy to help me with this, but I will try.

I will also publish novel number 2! Yes, I will…I think. The ideas are coming fast and furious, and are abusing me all hours of the night, plunging themselves in and out of my brain. They are such a tease! They want me to try to catch them. To get up and hold them down with a pen. I will, soon.

I will not buy the new Blackberry phone, or any new gadget that Apple, Google, Nexus and all those people stretching their fingers into my pocket want me to buy. I hope for Blackberry’s sake that they have learnt their lesson well: people don’t want a phone merely to keep in touch free of cost (BBM), they want a phone that allows them to share, interact, play, and experience the wide world of gadgets and technologies. In this world where entertainment is highly privatized and where speech has become fragmented and people don’t seem to have plain, ordinary conversations any more, folks are not hoping to talk more, but to share experiences – videos, games, jokes, photos, etc. I hope BB gets it, though I still will not get their phone.

New Phone

Blackberry Phone (Photo credit: jtcoleman)

I want to eat more Jamaican food this coming year, however hard that may be to come by in this part of the world.

Ah, humbug, I’m not even sure why I am using all this energy now to think of my New Year’s list when it isn’t even New Year’s Eve as yet.

Let me go get some rest and get back to this in another day or so.

Blessings.

November 6 – there will be blood!

After the votes are counted, there will be blood. There will be murders and mayhem. I predict suicides, rapes, extreme violence, lynching, lying, spitting, brawls, slaughtering, genocides, homicides, infanticide. I fully expect at least one Columbine. I know there will be lone gunmen as well as gangs marauding through the streets, searching for the supporters of the other side, and slaughtering them. Looting, burning, stealing, destroying, that’s what’s gonna happen on November 6. I see streets with tires burning around the bodies of men and women and children. And people watching, wondering, how did we ever get to this? It will be a bloodbath. There will be a frenzy of violence, and drinking of blood.

Violence!

Violence! (Photo credit: Rickydavid)

I remember a time, long ago, when I felt a surge of violence inside me that was shocking and unbelievably powerful. I felt like I was a machine – a thing of blood with moving mechanical parts. I wanted to run into the streets and fire my gun in the air and at every and any thing that moved. I felt violent.

The difference between what happened to me and what will happen on November 6 is stark. With me, I was at a Jamaican Dancehall session where DJ Capleton was on stage chanting “Come let us burn them out!” The music was psychotic and violent, and it was pulsating in my veins. I was smoking (not cigarette) and I had been drinking (not juice) and found my self in an inhuman trance. And the message of the music spoke to me. And I saw myself as a real gangster, a real ‘don’. Thankfully I have never returned to having those feelings since.

MS_Capleton

Capleton aka ‘The Fireman’ (Photo credit: Rototom Sunsplash)

As for the US presidential elections, I have been thinking about November 6 and what will happen after the votes are counted. It is a close election, that we all know (or that we have all heard.)

Someone will win and someone will lose.

People say that America is sufficiently civilized so the results will be accepted without physical violence and mayhem. That may be true, but in my view even if there is no outward show of violence, I know that there will be violence in the minds of thousands if not millions of Americans when the results are known. When they either see that the black man is still in the White House or that the billionaire Mormon who has nothing in common with the poor has assumed the seat of power.

Americans feel deeply about this election. The level of dislike between both sides has hardly ever been more palpable. There is no doubt in my mind that Obama and Romney genuinely dislike each other. And there is, similarly, more than a mild disgust between their supporters.

Passionate Democrats say they have seen the Republicans dress up a snake in sheep’s clothing (look carefully, that’s the tail beneath the dress.) The tea party has been quiet. Mitt has been moderate. Ryan has said little about the tough things that will need to be done to balance the budget. Passionate Democrats see this as an obvious and well planned strategy to strike for the middle and not alienate the liberals, the poor, the middle class, the Latinos  etc. What will happen if the ploy succeeds, and passionate Democrats see the snake slithering through the grass on the front lawn of the White House?

And, from the other side, what will happen if the ploy fails and the tea party and ultra conservatives see that they have lost, and that the black, Muslim, foreign-born, pro-life, pro-gay, godless man is back in the white house? Remember the sign in Ohio at the rally? (“Time to put White back in the White House.”)

One of these two outcomes will materialise, and I suspect that the burning, and looting, and lynching that’s in our genes will boil and there will be extreme violence in the minds of thousands of people. What will happen outside the mind is another story, but I know that inside, there will be violence.

A History of Violence

A History of Violence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As for me, that night in Kingston I stayed inside the Dancehall, I drank a  few more Guinness, tried chatting with some girls, and ate some peanuts and roast corn. I later went home and slept.

The bird must die!

This bird must die

This is not a time for us to be sentimental. We may think that it looks cute and cuddly. We may remember watching it as a child. We may be thinking that our own children are watching it and laughing, maybe even learning. But this is not a time for us to be foolish and sentimental. This bird, this vile, evil, monstrosity of a bird, is dragging our economy down and swelling our public debt. The bird must die! Or we all will.

Ah, you hear the music, you think it sings and dances. You think it entertains and educates. You are a fool. These are the time-honored deceits of the devil. Evil and debt come in many guises. And make no mistake about it, this is debt. Our debt. Or enormous public debt that will soon drown us, like a tsunami. If we don’t heed the warnings, and kill the bird.

The bird must die. It is a sacrifice that must be made for all humanity. When the bird dies we will be able to breathe more freely, rid ourselves of the suffocating hold of public debt. And we will be able to do more, for our own people, and perhaps a few of the world’s poor. But first we must kill the bird.

It may seem harsh, but the most bitter medicine is always the best. Amputate the leg before the cancer grows. The bird has already grown. Our public debt is huge. If we don’t act NOW a pernicious, cancerous public debt will eat away at our core, like gangrene. The bird must die. It is for the common good. It is for the debt.

Heed the warning. Kill the bird. The bird must die!

I’m in labour

I haven’t been blogging much this past month. It’s not thatI am depressed because there’s no Olympics to watch. That is only a small part of what has happened, and yes, it is painful that there is nothing else to watch on t.v..

The real reason is that I am writing! I go through phases when nothing happens, and times, like this, when all the ideas come.

I learnt a lot from the first novel. I continue to be very surprised by its success. I feel that I have gotten better, and I have gained much from the comments of readers.

I have a complete draft now in place, and am working on polishing and fine-tuning. I will need another month of work to get it to where I want a full first draft to be.

The ideas are coming. I’ve broken water.

I will get back to blogging in a bit, but a child is on the way.

One love

The way we are – 4

“If they would listen to me speak, l’d tell of how empty I feel inside,” said the shell.

“We too feel used,” echoed the shoes.

“I know exactly what you mean,” said the wall!

(All photos by Ezekel Alan. Selections from my photo journal.)

Cheating – in athletics, not relationships or politics

List of Major League Baseball players suspende...

At the end of my chain-smoking day, I put aside my weed, and I sometimes pray;

I say to the Lord, “I have never been gay, but I would like gays to be treated in a proper way.”

There are all kinds of things that come to my mind at the end of each day. These days my thoughts often turn to the Republican party in the US, and what could happen to American society if they were to come to power. I have heard some words and seen some deeds that have caused more than a small amount of consternation in me, a black man. I sometimes wonder what I would be thinking if I were a woman, or gay.

I read a New York Times article the other day that spoke of the dark (in deeds, not colour) road to the White House that some folks seem to be taking, and the devious means being pursued. (See article here.)

But that’s not what this blog today is about.

Neither is it about whether Jamaican men cheat in relationships, which is a subject that draws an awful lot of visitors to this website.

The question for today’s blog is ‘Do Jamaican men cheat in athletics?’

Or is it the question?

Carl Lewis rubbed me mighty wrong before, during and after the Olympics with his less than sincere concerns about the standards of drug testing in Jamaica, and his blatantly nasty insinuations about Usain Bolt’s performance. He wanted the world to take a good look at drug testing standards and facilities in our little, poor, backward, third world nation, because to him, it is unthinkable that we could produce athletes that could not only beat but humble his countrymen.

At the end of my chain-smoking day I started to reflect on the fact that no prominent Jamaican athlete has ever been tested positive for drugs in any international event. So, let us assume that we evaded detection at home, and made it to the world stage where drug-testing facilities are better. Nothing. (Not yet, and I hope not ever.)

The US, on the other hand, has had a long string of domestic and international drug-testing scandals. In fact, I don’t think there is any other country that has reported as many prominent cases of doping.

I found on the internet a list of the top ten sports figures whose careers have been tarnished by allegations or evidence of doping:

10. Shawne Merriman, NFL, San Diego Chargers – USA

9. Jose Canseco, MLB  – USA

8. Rafael Palmeiro, MLB – USA

7. Ben Johnson, Olympic Sprinter – Canada

6. Floyd Landis, American Cyclist – USA

5. Kostas Kenteris & Ekaterini Thanou, Olympians – Greece
4. Barry Bonds, MLB  – USA

3. Alex Rodriguez, MLB – USA

2. Marion Jones, Olympian – USA

1. Roger Clemens, MLB  – USA

(Read more at http://www.toptenz.net/top-10-sports-figures-steroids.php#oSZ8XXj5GYCp8svm.99)

Let’s forget about the unspoken suspicions around a whole generation of runners in the Flo Jo era, and get to BALCO, Marion Jones and a sub-industry producing drugged up athletes. Should we then move to Barry Bonds?

English: Marion Jones - September 30th, 2000 a...

Marion Jones – September 30th, 2000 at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No, let us instead look at this Lance Armstrong case – which is interesting for the fact that we are not talking about one person, but a whole network of cyclists who are confessing to the fact that there was some kind of ‘operation’ going on.

I don’t know if Lance is guilty or innocent, and a part of me wants him to be innocent, partly because I want to believe there is some good in us, but mostly because of his fight with cancer, and the fact that I hate to see someone’s reputation and life ruined and destroyed without solid evidence.

English: Cyclist Lance Armstrong at the 2008 T...

Cyclist Lance Armstrong (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What I find also really interesting is that the great World Anti-Doping Agency and the US anti-doping bodies could have been testing this man for over 7 years and now need to rely on witnesses to testify that he was taking drugs. I really wonder what Carl Lewis and the whole lot of them have to contribute to this issue of the caliber of these first world drug testing bodies.

The way we are – 3

“Look at me, I’m perfect, pure symmetry!”

“What the f— are you looking at?”

(All photos by Ezekel Alan. Selections from my photo journal.)

The worst moment for the US in the 2012 Olympics?

I believe that the men’s 4×100 meters track race might have provided the US athletes with their worst moment in the 2012 Olympics. Let me tell you why.

What it meant

  • Jamaica had won the men and women’s 100 meter races, which are seen as the top athletic events at the Olympics. While Jamaica also swept the men’s 200 meter event, the USA took two of the medals, including gold, in the women’s 200 meters race. This placed the advantage in Jamaica’s court.
  • But the US stormed back by winning the women’s 4×400 in dominating style, and also took the 4×100 in a similar but world record-setting manner.
  • At this point, the bragging rights were approaching even because the US now had one of the only two World Records at the meet, and also had the only athlete with 3 gold medals – Alison Felix. They had also blown away our girls in the 4×100 and 4×400.
  • The 4×100 men was therefore a pivotal race, not only in terms of deciding bragging rights re the number of important track events won, but also in determining if Bolt would join Felix with 3 golds (if not Felix would take bragging rights given that she also had a world record). Then there is also the special significance of the 4×100 as the highly prestigious closing track event of the Olympics. The last race that people would remember. The 4×100 mattered, and quite a lot.
  • The fact that Jamaica won, Bolt got a third gold and a World Record, not only made Bolt the single most celebrated track athlete at the Olympics, but also gave Jamaica a decisive hold on the claim of being the most dominant country in the track events. But this isn’t all that makes that race so difficult for the US.

Bragging rights

After this victory, no one would speak of Felix being the dominant track athlete

How it happened

  • The defeat was made fifty times worse for the US because of how it was done. The US had an excellent game plan – start off extremely strong, execute baton change well, and give Bailey a lead to try to hold off Bolt. This lead was to come from Gatlin and Gaye.
  • Gaye was therefore a crucial part of the US strategy. Gaye, perhaps the most talented US athlete never to have won an Olympic medal, was hungry for that prize. He said it many times before the games. Having failed in the 100m final, this was his last opportunity for gold. The race mattered significantly, and his role in it was crucial. His job was to give Bailey a lead that he could use to fight off Bolt, give Gaye his gold, and swing the bragging rights pendulum firmly back to the US.
  • Gaye got the baton first and took off around the corner. I believe the single worst moment of his life, and for the US athletics team in London, is when he saw the gold jersey of the Jamaican Beast, Yohan Blake, pull up comfortably beside him. I cannot imagine anything more demotivating that the certainty of knowing that with Bolt about to receive the baton at the same time as Bailey any remote opportunity for an American gold medal had then completely vanished.

The way we are – 2

Youth and friendship

The long loneliness of old age

(All photos by Ezekel Alan. Selections from my photo journal.)

Is Usain Bolt the greatest athlete of all time?

Usain Bolt after his victory and world record ...

Usain Bolt after his victory and world record in the 100m at the bird’s nest, during 2008 Beijing olympics, august 16th (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since his famous and electrifying victory in the London Olympics 200 meters race and his comment that he’s the greatest athlete ever, Usain Bolt has stirred up considerable debate in the media and across social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

After the race Bolt also made the comment that he’s now a living legend. He said it without caramel, honey or sugar-coating, and as a result his comment hasn’t gone down well with many folks who seem to be choking on it.

The first quick reaction came from a familiar source, IOC chairman Jacques Rogge, who was less critical than in 2008 but equally clear in his views – not so fast young man, he says, you have to prove yourself over a career and not only over two Olympics. Rogge was quoted as saying, “The career of Usain Bolt has to be judged when he has retired,”  noting that Carl Lewis amassed medals over 4 Olympics and therefore has a greater claim to the title of being greatest.

Jacques Rogge

Jacques Rogge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Carl Lewis, for his part, has commented that Bolt’s times were essentially nothing special. His views were echoed in some parts of American media, where commentators have been saying that because timing equipment were not that good in bygone decades, then no one knows how fast people have run before. Lewis has, on more than one occasion, also hinted at the possibility of drugs being the reason for Bolt’s exceptional performances. Other commentators online have said that as soon as Bolt’s world records are broken then Bolt will be forgotten.

While others have gone even further to say that Bolt may be the best Sprinter but he’s not the best Athlete, often citing Michael Phelps and his 18 gold medals as another candidate for the title ‘best athlete’.

These are those who have been choking on Bolt’s comments. On the other side of the fence we have not only Bolt and thousands of Jamaicans, but people such as Lord Sebastian Coe, who have said that what Bolt has done in pulling off back to back Olympic victories in both the 100 and 200 meter events makes him a legend. (See Coe’s comments here.)

What should we consider to be the truth? First, let us say that as a general rule athletes should let the world be their judge rather than try to be the judge of their own greatness. I don’t think it was necessary for Bolt to make those comments about himself, and would agree that it was lacking in taste and good judgement.

Second, we can also safely say that Carl Lewis, as always, appears to hate the fact that the world’s attention is centered on someone other than himself. He was a great athlete but has never been truly likeable to the rest of the world, and we can see why again. All his statements hinting at drugs point to Jamaica – yet he was never the one to make allegations against Marion Jones, Flo Jo, or any American sprinter. There is nothing honourable in his comments, they are inspired by petty malicious jealousies, and should be seen for what they are.

Carl Lewis at the "green carpet" for...

Carl Lewis (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Likeable?

These aside, we should also recognise that:

  •  We view excellence from the perspective of the point in time in which we live

As human beings we tend to bestow the title “greatest ever” on those athletes that live in our own time. This is why, for instance, if you do a casual browse of different websites which rate best footballers of all time, the greats of years gone by tend to fade in the lists, and get replaced by the Lionel Messis and Zidanes etc. It is simply harder for someone who knows little about Eusebio (Portugal, 1957-79) to see him as a better football player than Messi who they might have watched play, without even looking at goal scoring stats. This is also why just about every decade the lists of the 7 Wonders of the World change and bring in more contemporary Wonders.  We give a value of 100 to our time, and we undervalue both the past and the future. This is simply how humans are conditioned to behave.

  • We view excellence based on our connection with the personality

It is also likely that we will see the “best player’ as someone we can relate to, as opposed to someone we find arrogant and offensive. Here I am not even making a comparison between Carl Lewis and Bolt, but rather a general observation. Cristian Ronaldo is a magnificent footballer, and scores as many goals as Messi, but Messi gets rated above him on virtually all lists of the best. People simply like Messi more, and almost all judgements made about who is ‘the best’ are subjective and based on a majority perspective.

  • We view excellence based on our connection with the sport

Then there is also our connection with the sport and its universal appeal. There are no doubt amazing athletes in baseball, cricket, swimming (Phelps, etc), but these sports do not have the appeal of football or of the 100 meters track and field race. Few people in the world will care about or know who broke what baseball record, or the 50m butterfly. Even if we read about it, it simply does not stick in our collective memory.

What does this all tell us? Simply, that this is Bolt’s moment, his time; that the world likes him an awful lot more than either Phelps, or Lewis; and millions of people regard the 100 and 200 meter Olympic finals as the pinnacle athletic events. He is therefore being celebrated for being a great athlete of our time, and possibly longer. His memories will fade in time, make no mistake about it, for this is the fate of all great athletes.  But for those of us who have lived to see him, whether on t.v. or in person, there is no doubt in our minds that he’s something extraordinary.

The way we are

Perfection

Minor imperfection

Terrible imperfection

Same fruit, different perspectives.

(All photos by Ezekel Alan. Selections from my photo journal.)

What makes Usain Bolt and black athletes so good in the sprints?

Jesse Owens shook racial stereotypes both with...

Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why do black athletes dominate the sprint events?

A few weeks ago there was quite some controversy over this issue because of a comment made by American athlete, Michael Johnson, that black athletes dominate the sprint events because of something in their genes.

It was not a very politically correct thing to say, but more than a few people thought that there was something interesting in the comment. First, there is no doubt that blacks – Black Americans, Jamaicans and other blacks from the Caribbean etc – have held dominance over the sprint events for decades. Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis, Michael Johnson, Usain Bolt, Linford Christie, Donovan Bailey, Florence Griffith-Joyner, Gail Devers, Shelly-Ann Fraser, Veronica Campbell, etc – all blacks. What about the current top athletes for the 100m and 200m events in London? Almost all black – look at the lineup for the 100m men’s final as an example. (If you don’t recall the runners, the photo below should help. By the way, the 8th athlete who isn’t in the photo, is Asafa Powell, Jamaican and black.)

The color of the sprint gene?

The comment that Johnson made was this, “Difficult as it was to hear, slavery has benefited descendants like me. I believe there is a superior athletic gene in us.”

His argument, and the argument made by others like him, including various scientists, is:

  1. the strongest slaves were selected from Africa and shipped to the New World,
  2. only the very strongest survived the deadly Middle Passage (the journey across the Atlantic in the slave ships.)
  3. many slave owners participated in ‘selective’ slave breeding to ensure that stronger slaves were created
  4. only the strongest slaves survived the terrible conditions of life on the sugar and cotton plantations.

Essentially, the argument touches on Darwinism  – survival of the fittest.

Other commentators have also commented on whether there is something in the Jamaican diet and so forth, but these arguments are more spurious and not worth further exploration. Not every black athlete who has won the Olympic 100m has eaten yam.

So, as I was saying, there is a certain allure to this line of reasoning. One of its failings, however, is that it doesn’t help us to understand whether only West African slaves had the ‘speed genes’ as opposed to, let us say, East African slaves. The East African countries have been dominant in middle and long distance races, but you don’t see Ethiopians or Kenyans in the 100 and 200 meters events. They are unbeatable in just about everything else. This is part of our first puzzle.

The other puzzle is why blacks from America and the Caribbean dominate the sprints, as opposed to blacks from Canada, Britain, Germany, South Africa, St. Vincent, Barbados, Nigeria, Uganda, or elsewhere. This is not easy to explain by simply looking at genes and which slaves went to which countries.

I also don’t know that the Chinese are inherently better at table tennis, badminton, gymnastics and diving, or that Europeans are inherently better at cycling.

Here is I believe:

I believe that certain sports are in the national psyche of a country – the country takes pride in it, and tons of youngsters grow up aspiring to be the best at it. It could be because it represents a way out of poverty for many, or because it is deeply embedded in the very way of life of the people (like football for Brazil and the 100m and 200m sprints for Jamaica). For us, the entire country watches not only at Olympics but at Boys and Girls Championship events, Primary School Championships, National Trials, etc.  Oftentimes Chinese gymnast leave their families and normal schools at a young age to train for the Olympics, because this is somehow an event of national pride. It is the same for us, there is a national movement supporting our young sprinters and relay runners.

I don’t know what the original trigger was that led certain countries to identify with certain sports, but I think when it becomes a part of the national culture and psyche,  it creates a passion to win that leads to excellence. Perhaps when you combine some genetic predispositions with this national hunger and passion and tireless training, you have a formula that leads athletes from certain countries to shine in selected events.

By the way, with regards to Usain Bolt, my humble opinion is that once every fifty or a hundred years an athlete is born who is simply unnaturally gifted. He is not only a legend, but a unique human being with unnatural abilities. He confesses, for instance, that he trains less than his big rival, Yohan Blake who also, arguably, seemed to have had a greater hunger for gold. Yet Bolt, once again, stepped far ahead of the field.

Usain Bolt after his victory and world record ...

Usain Bolt after his victory and world record in the 100m at the bird’s nest, during 2008 Beijing olympics, august 16th (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’d love to know your thoughts.

We are the people of legends – Usain Bolt Strikes Again!

Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser – worth their weight in gold

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY TO ALL JAMAICANS!!

There is no better Independence Day gift Jamaicans could have asked for than this – Shelly-Ann Fraser and Veronica destroying the field in the women’s 100m sprint, and Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake taking home gold and silver in the men’s 100 m.

Lightning rarely strikes twice in the same place, but both Bolt and Shelly-Ann came back to the Olympics stage and repeated the remarkable feat of retaining their 100 m titles. Moreover, Bolt set Olympic records on both occasions! Not only has he been able to convincingly demonstrate that he is the fastest man alive, but he has now confirmed his status as a legend and a fighter. Many persons, including yours truly, had doubts about his fitness and focus leading up the big event. But he proved that he had the spirit of a fighter in him! Beaten by Blake in both the 100m and 200m at the Jamaican national trials, we all worried that he might not have been at the peak of his performance. But he clearly went into serious training, locking himself away from the limelight and distractions of the media, and focusing on his game.  And what a Bolt it was that turned up for the show! Relaxed, confident, powerful – he got a decent start and by the 50m mark it was clear that he could not be beaten because he was level with the rest of the field and beginning to open up those famous 2 meter strides. This was certainly the most memorable 100m race I have ever seen – it was simply breathtaking!

From the videos I saw of Half Way Tree Road after the event, the impact of this victory on Jamaica is inestimable. It comes just in time for our Independence Celebrations. It comes with gold and silver. And it comes with a comprehensive whipping of our great 100m rivals, the Americans.

This matters so much to us as a people – Jamaica, the biggest small island. In spite of all our hardships, to see our athletes, men and women, go on a world stage, in the home of our former colonizer, and side-by-side with another giant super-power, and completely dominate. This is more than pride. This is what makes us Jamaicans – the knowledge that our size doesn’t matter, we are as good as or better than anyone from any other country. And it is not only in athletics – Jamaicans stand tall in virtually all fields of human endeavor. We are a special people, we are a proud people, we are the people from which legends are made! Bob Marley and Usain Bolt will forever be seen as two of the greatest legends of this century.

Marley performing at Dalymount Park

Bob Marley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jamaica – the tiny olympic sprint machine

Like all Jamaicans, I’ve also been glued to my television screen since the athletics part of the Olympics start. It’s not that I don’t watch the other events, but there is a special place in my heart for Athletics. Part of the problem is that I can’t watch badminton for 10 straight days, I feel something is wrong with that (when oh when will this constant badminton end?) I also feel that certain sports that already have globally prestigious championships shouldn’t be in the Olympics – I include in this list Football. What more does anyone need than the World Cup? I am happy for Serena Williams, but do we really need two Wimbledon finals almost back to back? And must we have the Tour de France and then watch almost the same riders hustling along another 240 kilometers of lush green countryside 1 week later?

The trampoline looks like it requires athleticism, but I get giddy if I try to watch all that spinning and turning for long. I am constantly expecting one of the athletes to go dizzy and faint or puke.

Beach football also seems to me something you play with friends and then drink beer and party after. I just can’t think of it as an Olympic sport. Worse Handball – it’s as though someone said, “since we have foot-ball we can have hand-ball,” and so it was. It all strikes me as a waste of time.

But that could just be because I am Jamaican as I said before, and I love to watch people running. There is something very exciting about this –  almost like bringing me back to my childhood watching cow thieves running from farmers, or gun-men running from police.

Our athletes have gotten off to an excellent start – Shelly-Ann taking gold in the 100m women, and Veronica coming in with the bronze. Like all true Jamaicans I want more. I am far from content with being a tiny island winning gold and bronze at the big Olympics. I want much more! Call it greed, call it ungratefulness, but my belly is not yet full.

Tonight the big men step out onto the track – Bolt, Blake, Powell. A part of me doesn’t care which of them wins as long as one of them wins, but a part of me is behind Bolt. Last night’s 1-3 results board didn’t look bad, but tonight I am hoping to see 1-2-3. Our women have done it before…

Could Jamaica win gold, silver and bronze in the men’s 100m in London?

English: Yohan Blake during 2011 World champio...

Yohan Blake  (Photo credit: Wikipedia). There is a reason he’s called the Beast!

There is some speculation that Jamaican men could win gold, silver and bronze in the Olympics. There is no doubt that we have the talent to do this – if you look at the number of times athletes have run below 9.85 seconds you will see that Jamaican athletes dominate, and the trio of Bolt, Blake, and Powell lead the field. (I also think it will take a sub-9.8o time to win, though London may be a tough environment for anyone to run these times.)

The 9.85s barrier

The question is therefore not whether we have the talent, but whether we are ready to perform in London. Leaving fitness aside, there are some factors for us to consider.

The first is what my old man used to say, “If you eat your money and fart, don’t expect any change.” I never understood half of the things my old man said because he was often smoking weed when he said it, but this one I understood.

We, as Jamaicans, have a tendency to waste what we have (eat our money) and still expect to have things left over (fart and expect change). This problem has dogged Jamaican athletes and musicians for years. They will hit upon success, spend all their money on the latest model cars, girls, clothes, houses, etc, help maintain all their 50 close followers (or ‘hangers-on’ as we call them), party ’till them drop every night, ‘splurt’ like crazy, etc, and then look surprised when they find that they have nothing left.

As Jamaicans we all know that the most chronic problem of our athletes and performers is mental discipline. Few of our ‘stars’ seem to be able to see success as a start and not as an end; few see fame as an opportunity that requires them to continue working hard, training hard, and staying focused on excelling. This has dogged our Reggae Boyz footballers for years – the sense of being too important to listen to anyone, too important to focus on getting the job done, too important to be disciplined by a manager.

It is, I think, also for this reason that many Jamaicans are concerned about Usain Bolt in particular. Bolt is a phenomenon, but he is also young, and perhaps doesn’t fully appreciate just how much his success is Jamaica’s success. Brand Jamaica is built on names – Bob Marley, Usain Bolt, Jimmy Cliff, the Bobsled team. For many of us it’s not just that we want a Jamaican to win the Olympics 100m, we want Bolt to win because of the effect on the brand. Bolt winning gives a collective lift to all our identities. Deon Hemmings might have been the first Jamaican woman to win gold at the Olympics, but when we tell people that we are from Jamaica no one asks, “Isn’t that where Deon Hemmings is from?” Sad, but true. This is the reality: Bolt has charisma and appeal, and he has built a brand that helps Jamaica.

Usain Bolt 03

Usain Bolt (Photo credit: pirano Bob R). In form, no one runs beside him.

Hence Bolt partying, Bolt crashing his BMW, Bolt buying a cheetah, Bolt staying out late at night, Bolt dating a white girl, etc seems to all of us as Bolt eating his money. It bothers us much more than the usual foolishness of the Reggae Boyz, whose momentary and flamboyant flirt with fame fizzled a long time ago.

We want Bolt to win. Plain and simple. And so we want Bolt to remain focused and disciplined, and we want him to train much harder than he parties. Some of us fear that he may be rusty.

Bolt

A rusty bolt (Photo credit: Mathew Knott)

Blake, on the other hand, seems to have a hunger; he’s still in the stage where he is reaching for fame. All of us will remember Bolt at that stage, the look on his face when he won gold in 2008, the concentration and training that went into seeking that big prize. I feel that Blake has had this hunger now for some time, while Bolt is trying to reconnect with it. You need that hunger to succeed, and you need to stay hungry if you want to continue to excel. Bolt has been eating, a lot, and doesn’t seem hungry. Blake looks hungry, and my fear has always been that he may feel so famished that he might do something foolish to win. (Many Jamaicans know what I mean.)

The conditions in London may also favor Blake – with a lower centre of gravity and an explosive start out of the blocks, he may be very hard for Bolt to catch in sub-ideal weather.

Asafa’s issues are well-known – the crude among us call it stage fright, the more sophisticated speak of lack of exposure, referring to the fact that he did not go through the Boys Champs process. His problem is not fame or lack of discipline, or hunger, it is anxiety and lack of self-confidence when the big moment comes. I think the critics have been correct on this score, but I also think this is an issue in the past for Asafa. He has been around long enough now, and performed at enough big meets, and endured the vicious tongue of Jamaicans for long enough to be ready. The issue for me is whether he is in top shape and feeling confident about himself. The last 2 races I saw he ran extremely well and nearly had Bolt at the line. If he were to get a similarly good start on Bolt, feel confident in himself, and run the sub-9.8 time that he is capable of, then look out!

But while our athletes may be their own biggest obstacle, we also have other challenges in this Olympics. The Americans are in form, and I suspect that Justlin Gatlin has been to see a voodoo man in Haiti – he too has a lean and hungry look, and the glint of medal in his eyes. Tyson Gaye also seems extremely focused. And there are others.

Anyway, here are my predictions for the final:

1. If security around our training camp is slack and our boys can slip out to party, then we will get bronze and nothing more.

2. If Asafa Powell is again in love with someone very attractive, and feels confident in himself, he may run hard enough to get silver; if he’s not in love then he’ll be 5th.

English: Asafa Powell after his 9.72 win and t...

Asafa Powell (Photo credit: Wikipedia) When he’s in love he can perform

3. If the final is run on a cold, bleak, dreary, typical London day, then we should be happy if the boys finish the race.

4. If there is some quarrel in the camp, and ‘bad-blood’ sets in, then silver is the best we can get. (And all hopes for the relay would be lost.)

5. If the boys are not given Jamaican porridge for breakfast, if there is no yam to be found in Brixton to make their lunch, and if there is no cold milo readily available, then Jehovah bless us! We are doomed!

If all is well – Bolt is not allowed to party, Powell is in love, Blake the Beast gets his 12 bananas with his breakfast, and our guardian midgets are merciful – then its 1-2-3. As for the order of that 1-2-3, I’d say Blake, Bolt, Powell.

So mi seh aya!

—-

Postscript:

Prof. Mary Hanna, foremost literary critic in Jamaica, has published a book in which she lists the 50 best Jamaican books to read for Jamaica’s 50th anniversary. She selected 16 works of fiction, and Disposable People is one of the 16! You can find her book, JAMAICA WRITES 50 Great Reads for Jamaica’s 50th, on Amazon.

My first conversation with a prostitute

In a life full of ordinary things, I rarely have conversations with unusual or extraordinary people. There is a dreadful predictability about daily conversations which often lead me to drift off into my own thoughts and world. But recently I had a chat with a prostitute. Let me explain.

In one of my earlier blogs I noted that when I walk certain streets in Bangkok and prostitutes call to me I do not go to them because prostitutes are not my calling. I feel my life is to be lived with greater significance than what shadows and seedy side-streets can offer. You may therefore wonder why I recently went to Pat-pong, one of the most famous red-light districts in Bangkok.

For those of you who’ve never visited the area, the street-side food is marvelous and cheap, the night market bustles, and the clubs and restaurants buzz and throb with vitality and excitement.

Thai Food with LoVE..LOvE... for you..."G...

Thai Food Green Papaya Salad. Photo credit: Thai Jasmine. (I like it hot!)

I like good food, and I also like to observe people. I get both energy and inspiration from certain environments, and often bring my laptop in busy places to write, while observing the world as it goes by.

After eating dinner from a street vendor’s stall, I went into one of the gentlemen’s club to look around and have a beer, which is often reasonably priced.

I was sitting alone on a stool by a counter which wrapped around a pole. I ordered a beer from a passing waitress.

She came before my beer arrived.

“Hi honey, how are you tonight?”

Though English wasn’t her first language, the way she spoke suggested that she had learnt much more than what was necessary to communicate with her clients. She eased up to me, coming close enough for me to smell a cheap but subtle and flowery perfume. There wasn’t any empty stools, so she stood, shifting her weight every now and then between her feet. She was wearing stiletto-like heels, which I was sure she would use as a weapon if she ever got into trouble with a client. They were too high, however, and she wasn’t comfortable walking in them. I thought of nudging her and shouting “Timber!” as she fell. I often get these thoughts when I see women in high heels, sometimes I think of cow-tipping.

I told her I was fine, and reciprocated, “How about you?”

“I’m good honey, I’m very very good. But I can be bad if you like.” She said this with enough authenticity that I didn’t feel any urge to laugh.

“You on business here? looking for some action, honey?”

Always direct. The nature of the business was to earn, which required a certain level of turnover. This meant investing a minimum to assess prospects and, once identified, investing the extra to close the deal. If there was no prospect here, she wouldn’t share a drink, nor much more of her perfume.

I told her I was just taking it easy and having a drink. I said it politely, but in a manner I thought would be clear enough.

“You know the girls in here don’t like going with Africans, but me, I don’t mind, I have seen it all. I don’t mind.”

African? Four years in the region and it still hits me hard whenever someone assumes I am from Africa. I thought of telling her I was a bona-fide Usain-Bolt, Bob-Marley, Blue-Mountain-Coffee, Reggae-Music Jamaican, but I didn’t, as I figured it wouldn’t have mattered.

Sprinting legend Usain Bolt pictured in Brunel...

Usain Bolt (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Would she have seen this lightening pose?

Instead I told her I wasn’t looking for any action, just to make it a little clearer.

A stool was vacated a few meters from us and she slipped away and grabbed it, bringing it back and planting herself beside me. I wasn’t sure why.

When she sat, I understood why – her feet were tired. Then she slouched ever so slightly on the stool, and I understood that her tiredness went much further.

She couldn’t afford to slouch too much as she was on the job, and being constantly watched. She was giving the impression that I was a real prospective client, so she could stay there a while and rest.

“So what’s your name honey? You work here?”

We chit-chatted for a little, I told her I was with a consulting firm doing some work with the government. She had gone for the Marilyn Munroe blond curly look, nicely blended with a white tank top and an airy skirt. Some women are pluses, some minuses, but she was definitely a plus, and I could only imagine how beautiful she had been years before she moved into the shadows. Her face seemed pale, but not as though she was bleaching, more as though her skin was losing the brightness of her youthful dreams. Amidst all the make-up and artificial accompaniments (which included implants, hair, eyelashes, eye-color, and ‘gold’ bracelet), her eyes were the only things that hinted at the real person she was, or once was. There was a certain glint and softness in her eyes which, to me, looked like the thing you would find if you looked at a human long enough to see what separated us from the rest of animals. That thing, that soul-gene that makes us cry sometimes when we watch a sad movie. That soul-gene that makes a child let go of her mother’s hand to run back and give her candy to an old beggar on the street. There was that something in her eyes.

“I don’t mind Africans you know,” she continued, but in a manner that wasn’t pushy or insistent. I got more of a sense that she simply wanted me to take her away to someplace where she wouldn’t be watched, and where she wouldn’t have to stand, and where she would be fine giving me her body so she could have a minute with her soul.

“I been with Europeans, Africans, Americans, all these men are bigger than the Chinese and Japanese that come here. The local girls they don’t like the foreigners, they prefer the Asian men.” I understood from this that Chinese and Japanese were not ‘foreigners’ in the same way the rest of us were.

“I go with the big men who work with the oil companies,” she was mostly speaking to herself, but with her face angled towards me to give the impression that she was working a client. “There is a pastor as well, he’s from out-of-town, but he comes here whenever he’s in Bangkok. He doesn’t know that I know he’s a pastor. I’ve been with a Prime Minister with a group of girls. Lawyers, doctors, engineers…”

“So it was in the beginning, and so shall it be in the end,” was the thought that came to me, and I might have said it if I thought she knew who Bob Marley was and could understand the reference. Instead I took another sip of my beer, and nodded as though I was acknowledging what she was saying, which was really for the benefit of her watchers. I wanted her to rest.

“But they all don’t see me.” When she said it I paused. I had by then realized that her English was quite good, and she was articulate. I had, however, not thought of her as someone who quite likely had come from a very poor background and had invested in her own education.

“They sometimes give me big tips, or come to me when they are in town. They’ll say sweet things sometimes, or tell me how if they didn’t have a wife they’d take me away and marry me. But it’s just a role they play, and this is all just a game. They don’t see me.”

When she said this it hit me quite hard, because the truth is, up to that point, I hadn’t seen her either. We had just been two bodies in a bar being watched by people who wanted us to perform so they could earn.

“My name is Ezekel, but my friends call me Kenny.”

“My name is Rita.”

And like this we started to talk.

The first time they took me to an Obeahman (witch doctor)

Matane cemetery

Cemetery (Photo credit: Bête à Bon-Dieu)

They had already killed my father, and drank his blood, but their thirst was not yet quenched. He was buried in the public cemetery, amongst the poor and destitute, as  there was no space in the Baptist Churchyard, and we hadn’t enough money to buy a plot in a private burial ground. His soul could never find peace in a public cemetery, forever roaming with strangers. This is what they had wanted.

But they were not finished. Three months after he was buried, they also buried one of their own beside him; an old man who had known no love throughout his life, and whose job was now to ensure that my father got no rest until the day of Judgment. They did not put any marks on his grave, though in our minds we had written the words that belonged there: “Herein lies a Wife-beater, Child-Molester, Thief, and Drunk.”

In 1981 when we buried my father I was 11 years old, and I knew the kind of people who had killed him, and the kind of witchcraft they had used. They were not the normal grudging, malicious ‘back-biters’ that we often spoke about, sometimes in hushed tones, sometimes openly. We all knew who those persons were and the petty acts of spitefulness that were their trade. We laughed at them, and jeered them, and sometimes cussed and scorned them in public to shame them for their petty-mindedness. They were irrelevant cockroaches that scampered away when enough light was shone on their deeds.

The people who killed my father were different. They were to be feared because they kept company with death. They never showed their faces, and never left the shadows. They would sometimes meet you on the streets after dark, or come to visit you in your house, but always wore a mask and strong perfume to camouflage the stench of their rotting souls.

They killed my father, my aunt told us, because we had too much life in us, and their spirits were already dead. We were building another room onto our house; my father had bought a bicycle for my brother and often came home with a large bag of groceries. We had a television – the only one in our neighborhood. We were on the waiting list for a telephone. My father’s business was doing well.

So they killed him.

In 1982 they started to come for my mother. She had gone back to work, started a little shop selling snacks, sodas, cigarettes and such, and it was doing well. She was still sending me to school and I was about to take exams.

She started getting sick often, started losing weight rapidly, started having dark and darker blotches beneath her eyes as the evil spirits they sent tormented her nights and kept her from sleeping. On the morning that she woke up in April and vomited a pile of insects and green phlegm, my aunts came and took her away for the day. I wasn’t allowed to see her the night she came back, nor the day after. Three of my aunts took turns staying with her inside the second room that she had completed building.

When I saw my mother again she looked different, brighter – not in cheerfulness but more as though she had a glow around her. She kissed me and told me everything would be fine. I remember this because of how unusual that act was in the tenement yard where we lived.

She started to read her bible often, and every morning and every evening she sprinkled oils and certain powders around our house from two bottles I could never find after she had used them. Whenever I came home from school and visited her at the shop I would see her sprinkle oils from another bottle that she would then tuck into her bosom where it hid alongside the handkerchief she used to wrap the cash she collected from her customers.

My mother remained healthy after that, and we continued to do fine, staying just outside the reaches of severe hardships and poverty. But we always knew that we were being watched from the shadows.

On Sunday July 4, 1982 I learnt that I had passed the Common Entrance Exams and would go to a good school. The news travelled far, to my aunts, uncles, and cousins in Toronto, London, Brooklyn, St. Mary, Portland; to my elementary school teachers who came to visit and congratulate me at home; to the local pastor who also came to visit (without his wife or young mistress); to my father’s spirit in the cemetery, giving him a rare moment of contentment and pride; and into the far reaches of the shadows. I would be the first to go to a good school. I would be the first to get out.

It didn’t take long for something to stir in the darkness. Months later some people said that they had known that something was going to happen because they smelled a kind of stench in certain places or heard a sound like the rattling of hollowed bones when they passed certain corners.

Something had moved, and the wait had begun.

Sometime in the second week of July my eldest aunt rushed to convey a message to my mother in the middle of the night. By the next day everyone had heard. The pestilence that walks at night was coming.

No one told me what was happening, and much of what I know I found out months and years later. But I knew we were all waiting.

The first strike was not long in coming. The morning of Tuesday, the thirteenth of July, was grey. Ominous clouds tormented the sun and gave cover to a vicious rain which fell hard and pounded shards of silver into the powerless ground. From the depths of the shadows that morning, they threw a harpoon right through the center of my heart. They killed Tommy.

I was a little older then, old enough to love, and I loved Tommy. He was my best friend. (Tommy’s story is told in Disposable People.)

His blood was dripping from the sides of their mouths, but their thirst was not yet quenched. That was only the beginning.

I was the chosen one; they wanted me.

Months later I learnt that one of them had gone to St. Thomas, and another somewhere on the South Coast to awaken spirits that no force of nature could stop. It was rumored that a baby’s grave was found dug out in St. Thomas, and the grave of an Indian woman in St. Elizabeth. Depending on which one reached me first, the Baby Duppy* or the Coolie (Indian) Duppy I would be dead in either a week or a month. If both arrived at the same time, I could be dead within a day.

My grandmother had no leaves that could protect me. There were no barks of any tree that had powers to stop what was coming. My mother’s love, while comforting, was not shielding. The spirit of my father may have been strong enough to guard against one of those evils, but not two, and certainly not the two most horrifying coming together. There might have been shelter inside a church, but I would have had to live there without ever leaving, because those evil spirits had nothing else to do and nowhere else to go, and would wait for me at the gates, for however long it took.

I would be dead before the end of August. My mother knew, my aunts knew, everyone knew. No one told me exactly what was happening, but I sensed it; I sensed a darkness coming from afar, coming towards me, coming for me. I stayed close to my mother who didn’t go to work anymore, and who prayed much more than before.

I never learnt whose idea it was, but before July ended it was decided. We would not wait. There was an old man who had the powers to stop what was coming. The research had been done, all the elders had been consulted, my aunts abroad who still wore their charms of protection had called a neighbour’s house and spoken with my eldest aunt. It was decided. He was the most powerful, and the only one who could stop the two evil spirits that were coming from different directions and drawing closer. He lived in a small village about 3 miles from Vere in Clarendon. We could not wait another minute, we would go to him.

Note: * Jamaicans refer to ghosts or evil spirits as ‘duppies’.
I’m sitting here on my patio, thinking back on the early days and all the times and for all the reasons I was brought to see a Obeah man. Now I must go back to writing the second novel. Almost 3/4 way through!

The things I do when my wife’s away, or asleep

English: A pile of pillows.

English: A pile of pillows. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She doesn’t read my blog, and unless someone tells her these things, she will not find out. She goes away every now and then, travelling to Jamaica or the US, and occasionally for a short weekend trip with some friends.

When she leaves I do things that I perhaps should be ashamed of, but I can’t honestly say that I am. I know none of the things I do ‘make me a man’, but I do them just the same.

When she’s away

If she has flown and gone far away, I wear a red boxer to see her off at the airport, and I wear red every day until she returns. I grew up with superstition, and still today I call on God and every force of nature to protect those that I love when they are away from me. And so I wear all my red boxers when she’s away, and wash them to wear again if she’s away for long.

Each morning while she’s away I look in the mirror, to see the life that God has given and the man that she has made. And I am thankful. So I knock on wood, once or twice, but never three times, as this is one of my secret cues to the universe, that I need its help to protect her.

I tell the kids stories about the woman I met, what she was like, and why I fell in love with her. When she’s around it’s hard to tell stories about her, so I use the moments when she’s away.

I sleep with her pillows beside me. There are six pillows on the bed, on an average night 4 are hers, and 2 mine. Sometime I will wake up and she has 5. When she’s away I bring her pillows closer so I can breathe in the scent of her, and feel her essence.

When she’s away I often pray. It is shameful that I turn to God mainly when I need something from Him, and I have often promised to do better. But now I mostly ask his protection for her, and when she returns safely to me I thank my God for his kindness and blessings.

When she’s asleep

I cuddle her. This she knows, because she often wakes up and catches me in the act. What she doesn’t know is what I tell her while she’s asleep.

I start by telling her that I love her, and that I am blessed to have her in my life.

I tell her that I am truly sorry for everything that I’ve ever done to hurt her, and that each hurt has hurt me more. I tell her that I remember the things I’ve done that she may have long forgotten. And that I will never do those things to her again.

I tell her that I want to grow old with her, holding hands in our rocking chairs, perhaps in our own house or in a clean, well-run golden age home where the attendants are kind, and the kids come to visit us often.

Typical Finnish wooden rocking chair.

Wooden rocking chair. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I tell her that I hope that I will die before her, because I couldn’t go on living if I lost her.

Sometimes I ask her why she loves Law and Order so much. But she doesn’t answer, because she is asleep.

Law & Order: Criminal Intent

Law & Order: Criminal Intent (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I tell her how hard my day was, and how I looked forward to coming home to see her and the kids.

And before I fall asleep myself, I tell her, “I love you booboo, I honestly do. Goodnight my love.”

Why do (Jamaican) men cheat?

Photograph showing box of condoms from UK

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These are the facts as I know them:

  • All kinds of men and women cheat. Cheaters are of every race, every nationality, every country, every religion. Men and women cheat. Rich people and poor people cheat. Overall, approximately 25-30% of men say they have cheated at some time.
  • Men cheat more than women. Younger men cheat more than older ones. Black men cheat more than white men. Men from southern sections of Africa cheat the most.
  • Men married to gorgeous women are equally like to cheat.

Would you cheat on her? (Public domain image)

  • Nigerian women are the most unfaithful. For men, the Thais hold the title. (However, there is nothing to indicate that Thai men are cheating with Nigerian women.)
Cassava processing, a source of employment to ...

Nigerian women (Photo credit: IITA Image Library)

(The data on Thai and Nigerian cheaters is based on research done by Durex condoms. See the report here. There is another very interesting article on which countries have the highest rates of infidelity, you can access it here.)

We also know that ninety-two percent of men said that the reason they cheated wasn’t because of a need for sex. Instead, the majority said it was because they felt an emotional disconnection from their partner (wife/girlfriend), and felt ‘under-appreciated’. Essentially, their partners weren’t making enough gestures to make them feel, well, like men. (You can read the article on the main reasons men say they cheat here.)

This is all the data I have seen in scholarly publications.

Some things I know:

I know a man, a German, a good man, who only loves the smell of hibiscus flowers. He’s an incorruptible man – doesn’t sway towards the passing scent of a young, fresh rose, nor swoon at the wild orchids as they blossom, nor drool at a wet Lily as it delicately opens and sheds its petals. His soul is engulfed by the smell of hibiscus. It consumes him, and leaves no room for anything else.

I also know a man, a Portuguese, decent chap, who goes home every night to question God and launch vitriolic attacks at the devil. (He would also curse God if it weren’t for the fact that he grew up Catholic and some of the things he heard in church have left a deep fear of God inside him.) He is a bitter man, has no wife because she left him, and has no kids because she took with her that possibility as well. She didn’t leave him because he is Portuguese or bitter. But because he cheated. He told me he did it only once, and deeply regretted it. It happened at a time when he had just started going back to the gym, was earning well, and felt good about himself. It was with a girl in the gym. (There is an interesting article you can read about the testosterone effect on cheating: The Moral Molecule: Why Men Cheat.)

What do these two things have to do with why men cheat? This:

I have been doing my own survey for over 20 years. Most of the subjects weren’t aware that they were part of a study. The interviews and focus group discussions mainly took the form of bar talk at clubs, rum bars, parties, restaurants, and on patios. Very often alcohol was involved.

Over the course of these years conducting my research I found few examples of men who were like my German friend, and who were completely committed to their partners. This does not mean that there aren’t many such men, only that in the dozens of conversations I’ve had few seemed willing to profess their devotion.

Many were like my Portuguese friend – did it once or twice, but not always with regret.

About 80% of men I have spoken with were comfortable talking about it or the possibility of it. About a third had done it. Another third seemed interested in doing it but were either fearful or uncertain – “Where would I take her?” “What if I got caught?” “Maybe it’s better to do it when you travel, so you don’t piss where you sleep.”

The most interesting conversations were with Jamaican men. I found many loved the adventure of it, the quest, the thrill, the conquest. They often joked loudly about it, spoke proudly about how many times they had done it, and how they camouflaged what they were doing. One group of friends said they pooled and rented an apartment – that way they had a discreet place to take a girl, and they didn’t have to shell out too much money from their salary which could bring questions.

Some of these men had kids their partners weren’t aware of, one or two had another entire family. (Some of these stories are told in my novel Disposable People.)

What struck me most overall from the various conversations is how my North American and European male associates often seemed more cautious, curious, and discrete while talking about cheating, while my Jamaican associates often seemed loud and proud.

People say that it was born in Africa and is in our gene pool. Some researchers say that slavery reinforced it, and poverty cemented it. Often times social commentators lament that our music celebrates it. I am not a psychologist and can offer no new insights into why men do the things they do. What I can say is that wives and girlfriends often don’t seem to know exactly what their partners have been up to, or what they are thinking.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Take this twice per day and get some rest, and I guarantee you will live long

I am now officially a medical doctor. If by doctor we mean folks who change their minds about what is good or bad for you every few months, I believe I am certified and competent.

English: Robert H. Habenicht. First SDA Medica...

Dr. Robert H. Habenicht. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) (He is NOT my doctor)

When I was growing up I was told that the coconut oil my mama used in her cooking was slowly lining the walls of my arteries with fat and getting me ready for a nice, big, massive heart attack. Years later new research said that coconut oil is one of the few that’s actually good for you.

English: Coconut oil in solid state

Coconut oil in solid state (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I also just read a NY times article (Salt, we misjudged you)  debunking years of orthodox belief that salt is bad for you.

Recently there was another article cautioning against the dangers of too much exercise, and one on How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body. I have been told at one point that egg yolk was bad, then later that there ain’t nothing wrong with egg yolk. I was also told that eating egg white is fine to control my cholesterol intake, then later that egg white is scarcely better than egg yolk. Then came the eat high protein meat diet, followed by the “Hell no!” meat is what causes cancer and heart disease and all studies show that the groups of people who live longest eat less meat.

Far from being confused I now feel confident. I am a doctor. And I would recommend the following as good for your health (until new research indicates otherwise):

  • Jump from a tall building at least once every 3 to 4 months. The adrenaline rush has been proven to stimulate healthy heart functioning. If you don’t find time for regular exercise, an enormous, sudden acceleration of heart palpitations once every few months has been shown to carry the same benefits as consistent exercise. Please try to land on something soft to ensure that your heart will continue beating.
  • Break a part of your body once per year. It is scientifically proven that the chemicals that the body produces to help repair broken limbs have wider effects on the entire body. Initial studies have also confirmed that the hormones produced for physical recuperation can assist with mental problems as well.
  • Have unprotected sex with prostitutes once or twice every 8 to 10 months, but be sure not to exceed three encounters in any 12 month spell. Research shows that people who take risks live longer.
  • At the outset of a cold or flu, prepare a small potion of rat soup (recipes can be found on Jamaican websites) and drink 2 to 3 teaspoons of the broth twice per day for 1 week, preferably with a meal. Science has shown that there is no negative effects from drinking rat soup (which I also drank often as a child for other medical conditions). This is therefore safer than taking other medications whose negative side effects have been well documented.
  • For effective weight loss, eat street food in Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Indonesia etc or drink tap water in Mexico, Guatemala, etc. The amount of weight lost is often significant and can be permanent. Additionally, most intestinal parasites can be cured and hence there are no long-term harm. Moreover, if you have health insurance then hospitalization is normally covered at 100% so your weight loss regime can be completely free. Allow the body 7-8 months to recover between infections.
  • Instead of an apple a day eat mangoes. Research shows that while apples are good for weight control and their antioxidants, most people do not genuinely enjoy eating apples and therefore miss out on other potential benefits. People who eat sweet mangoes are shown statistically to be significantly happier, which reduces overall stress and enhances longevity.
Apple fruit

Apple fruit (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

  •  Marry young and marry often. Science shows that married people are happier and live longer, and early research is suggesting that the more often you fall in love the happier the long-term effect. It may be best to fall in love with your next partner while you are married so as to reduce the length of the transition process and ensure that you are not single for any extended period of time. This will also help you to take advantage of the dual benefits of being married and falling in love at the same time.
  • Study as little as you possibly can. Again research indicates that better educated people earn more but higher earning people are less happy. As long as you can avoid extreme poverty you will likely live longer and enjoy life more by not exerting yourself too much.
  • Once every few months randomly bite a stranger you see on the road, or squeeze some part of their body in an inquisitive and non-threatening manner. Variety and spontaneity are the very sparks of life, and doing things that are different and unexpected can boost adrenaline and happiness hormones. Be sure not to do this in a Western society.
To your good health!

I saw a black man kill a black man, and I watched, like it was t.v.

I need to be honest with you from the start. I like the plain beauty of the naked truth, but I much prefer the delicious sweetness of a big fat lie. Fat lies, like fat people, have often gotten the raw end of the deal, but not from me, I really like fat lies. The chubbier the better!

Anyway, I am telling you this so you know that I have not always been honest.

Today I will be. Honest.

Today I will tell you something that is 99% true.

This is 99% true: in October 1980 a black man wearing an orange shirt killed a black man wearing a green shirt in a yellow bus in front of me, and I watched while standing beside my brother. Seeing that event did not f–k me up any at all.

Let me break this up a bit for you so that you can understand which parts are true, and the 1% that isn’t.

October 1980 – General Elections were being held in Jamaica. True.

The only people wearing orange shirts were Socialists (PNP); the only people wearing green shirts were f—king assholes (JLP), according to my old man. True.

socialist latte

We were Socialists. True then, and still is.

I had a dog named Ruffy at the time. True then, no longer.

I could only watch the killing because I was a child of 11 years old and wasn’t old enough to do anything about it. True.

If I could have done something about it I would have helped the first man kill the second man. True then, but no longer.

My father, my brother, my mother, my unborn sister, my dog, my toilet, my mango tree, my cousins, my uncles, my aunts, my right and left toes, my gungo peas plants, my everything, were all Socialists. True then, not as much now.

If my cousins could have helped the first man kill the second they would have. True, and they did.

If my brother could have helped the first man kill the second one he would have. Here I must be honest, I genuinely do not know, as I have never asked my brother his real thoughts. Moreover, I know from watching Law and Order that the mere fact that my brother was shouting “Kill him! Kill him raasclaat! Kill de dutty raasclaat Labourite!” is only circumstantial. He could, in a court of law, contend that he only behaved in that manner to fit in with his environment and that he did, secretly, support and vote for the Jamaica Labour Party. Who knows?

The second man was on a bus that was full of Socialists coming from a political rally. True, but I still wonder how the hell a Labourite found himself on a bus full of Socialists during Jamaica’s most violent general elections.

Me and my brother were standing on the roadside watching the motorcade driving through our ghetto. True.

When the bus in question was driving by where we were standing, I saw the second man struggling with all his might, and with panic in his eyes, to escape through a window of the slow-moving bus. True.

While the loudspeakers on top of the lead car in the motorcade were blaring “We a go lick dem with JAMAL! We a go lick dem wid de Free Education!” everyone at the back of the bus was shouting “Hold him! No mek de bomboclaat Labourite get way! Hold him!!” True, I found myself shouting this too.

My cousin, Cookie, who was close to me, looked like she wanted to pee based on the way she was jumping from foot to foot with excitement. True.

While the second man was trying desperately to squeeze himself out of the window, the first one was on his back stabbing him over and over again with an ice pick. False! Liar, liar, pants on fire! I had to throw that lie in there, just for fun. The person stabbing the second man with the ice pick was actually a third man, he was also wearing an orange shirt.

The first man, who we have just established was not the one with the ice pick, was somehow beneath the second man, with a rachet knife, slicing his belly open. True.

It was the cutting open of the belly, and not the stabbing with the ice pick, or the punching, or the kicking, or the stones, or the hits with the pieces of wood, that killed the second man. Uncertain!! Right here is where I have told myself a big fat lie for over thirty years! I have always told myself that it was the cutting open of the belly, and the falling out of the intestines through the window, in front of me, that was the cause of death. But, from watching CSI and NCIS, I realise that sometimes what you think is the obvious cause of death, isn’t. The man might simply have been scared to death, like one of those CSI victims I saw once. Or it could have been the kicking and punching. I really do not know what, or who was the cause of death.

Seeing this event did not cause me any psychological problems later in life. True. I think the things that screw you up are the ones that shocked you when they happened. This didn’t. At 11 years old I already knew how the world worked. And killings weren’t unusual or shocking in my world. Its like going into a strip club – you know the girls there will spend more time at the table with the Japanese men, and less time at the table with the African men. This is just life. Prejudice, killings, stealing, adultery, etc. were all part of everyday life. They caused me no nightmares.

So, there you have it, the real version of what happened. I am deeply thankful to Law and Order, NCIS and CSI Miami for helping me to analyse those events.

English: Titlecard for Law and Order: Special ...

Image via Wikipedia

Note: if you are interested in the things that really screwed me up, please check out my novel, Disposable People, which is inspired by true events.

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