Oops, (UW)I Did it Again

Despite claiming in February that the refurbished halls will not priced out of the range of a student budget, the UWI has implemented a 30% increase in hall fees on the recently remodeled Irvine Hall, a traditional hall of residence at UWI, Mona.

Earlier this year, Principal Archibald McDonald asserted that the cost of the new fees would first be approved by the UWI council. But in July a group of students started a petition to protest the unfair price hike of 30% for the new buildings. Deputy Principal Ishenkumba Kahwa argued that the fee increase only affected the minority of students who would be assigned to these new accommodations, mostly those in their final year. He added that subsidies would be considered on a case by case basis, saying (unwisely) that there are student who can afford the new cost.

I have noticed over the last few years or so that UWI has developed the habit of using financial means as an unofficial matriculation requirement. I first noticed it with medical school where students who didn’t make the cut for the government subsidy would be offered a place at the full-fee tuition (meaning if you can afford it, you’re in). Then lately, their costs of accommodation have steadily been increasing, with the addition of several new (and therefore expensive) halls. The traditional halls like Mary Seacole, Irvine, Chancellor and Taylor were substantially less expensive, less well-maintained and had obvious limitations on number but they provided an option for students who needed on-campus lodgings.

While it is high time these older halls were refurbished, I do think more could have been done to offset the cost of refurbishing so that the student wouldn’t have to absorb such a significant increase in price. The cost of accommodations on campus increases annually anyway, but I can imagine that many students didn’t budget for this level of inflation. And it is unfair that final year students who should be concentrating on completing their degree are now forced to find extra funds to pay the raised price or risk being barred from their exams for owing money to the university.

It is unfair, but unsurprising. University is a business, after all, and the bottom line is profit. Those who can afford it will always pay, and it makes no never mind that we are once again headed in the direction of elitist education that is limited to foreigners and the upper class.



Sources: here, here and here.

Prison Ablaze: A Symptom, not the Disease

Yesterday the Tower Street Adult Correctional Facility caught on fire.

Photo from the Jamaica Gleaner

Predictably, the government is scrambling to conduct an ‘urgent upgrade‘. The article is peppered with buzzwords like ‘relevant stakeholders’ and ‘infrastructural development’. Interestingly there is no mention of whether any of the inmates were injured, just that they have been relocated.

It’s also worth pointing out that the fire affected the part of the prison that houses the mentally ill inmates. What is the level of supervision for these inmates, and what are their living conditions like? Were these facilities particularly susceptible to fire hazards? Was the fire an accident of poor maintenance, or the intentional act of unsupervised inmates, or something else entirely?

The article is keen to remind us that ‘high-profile’ criminals like Vybz Kartel are also housed at this prison. Is this supposed to garner public sympathy, or expedite government intervention? I’m not sure why the popularity of certain inmates is relevant to the reporting.

But it all goes to highlight the reactive way we deal with crises in this country. Institutions and resources struggle along for years carrying water with baskets until something catastrophic happens. Whereupon every Jack man jumps up to point fingers and fling on a hasty fix, only to have the system break down again because nothing long-term was put in place. For all the government’s talk about cutting costs (and it is mainly talk), you would think they would learn that prevention better than cure.

If It Ain’t Broke? CRH is Definitely Broke

Local news headlines are reporting that the regional hospital on the western end of the island is having difficulties with the decades old ventilation system, forcing most of its services to be badly curtailed. As the only Type A hospital outside of the KSAC its services are integral to regional health stability. Not just the most critical patients but also the day to day management of stable patients depend on this hospital’s functions.

Which is perhaps why in an effort to avoid national panic, the Government (through the media) has downplayed the potentially longstanding and severe effects of the situation. Ventilation issues are the problem, they quip, and point to engineers assessing the situation, the plans in place to fix it. Never mind that every day brings the shut down or relocation of some critical department. Never mind that daily staff and patients are exposed to unknown airborne chemicals with unforeseeable effects to their physical health.

The problem as Dr. Christopher Tufton rightly pointed out is primarily one of neglect. For decades the ventilation at CRH has not been working and none of our successive governments has bothered to fix it. So when a simple problem of airborne irritants occurs there was no ventilation  system in place to redirect the fumes. And when they did turn the system on the problem only worsened. (This is a classic example of sick building syndrome).

Internationally speaking, workplace hazards are problems ripe for litigation. It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that the employee is not placed at unnecessary risk in carrying out his or her duties (the so-called ‘due diligence‘). Where unavoidable this risk should be carefully calculated.

Human lives are at stake.

Healthcare workers are put at risk in so many other ways: needle-stick injuries, violent patients, contamination with blood or other bodily fluids, the constant exposure to illness. We mitigate these risks as best as we can, accepting them as part and parcel of our call to service. But the continued pressure to work in an environment with unidentified and potentially catastrophic risk is, I think, too much to ask. What the media (and therefore the public) have yet to fully realize is that human lives are at stake: patients, medical and non-medical staff, siblings, spouses, parents, children.

I don’t envy the Health Minister’s seat right now, backed into a corner with IMF restraints and the demands of an ailing health sector. And just as you said, Dr. Tufton, there is no quick fix. But the people working and convalescing in this contaminated institution cannot be left to languish while the situation is slowly rectified. Decisive action is needed if lives are to be saved. Come Dr. Tufton, do sumn before sumn do wi.

The Final Countdown

It’s raining today, a very grey world. And damp. Even though it’s bleak, shy patches of colour peek out. Purple flowers in my front yard. Pink and yellow flowers in the yard around the corner that I picked by L’s request yesterday. She’s been pressing them for two days under all four phone books in the house in preparation for a Fancy Manicure. Against my will, I will also be getting a Fancy Manicure.

There’s so much anxiety in the air, I can hardly make words. It’s like reaching the bottom of the slide at Margaritaville where you’re going so fast you can’t even take the deep breath you need for the plunge into salt water.


I don’t know what to tell you. My thoughts are scattered and dwindling, like the days until MBBS, like potholes on Kingston roads, like Riverton smoke some weeks ago.

There is news: local news, national news, international news. Heads of State visiting, vendor shacks being demolished, students massacred in Kenya. And there is life. Trips to Sovereign, fancy dress parties, clerkship exams and MBBS. I’m always struggling with how to reconcile external events with my internal life. How to hold on to emotional impact and evoke social and political feeling while still trying to find the perfect shoes. I digress, but I really wish I could find the perfect shoes.

It seems life is all about balancing nuances. I love nuances, but I’m terrible at eliciting them or acknowledging them or even realizing them most of the time. And even though the world is a million shades of grey today, and I like that, I spend most of my time imagining things as black or white, this or that, me or you.

Maybe because my life has boiled down to right and wrong answers. Even the calendar has been corrupted. For me May means sink or swim, June means pass or fail and July? July means life or death. Mine, and the patients’.

Conscientious Lyrics

People think that when you’re being entertaining, you can’t send a message; and when you’re sending a message, you can’t be entertaining.

There’s an entire saga of viral Youtube videos about regular people complaining about socio-economic issues. But because these people are so dramatic in front of the camera, viewers tend to focus on their antics rather than their message.

I think it started with Antoine Dodson who appeared on U.S. national news when an intruder broke into his sister’s apartment and attempted to rob/rape her. Then it was Clifton Brown from Mavis Bank, JA who tried to raise awareness about the dysfunctional bridge in his community and the dangers of flooding in the rainy season. Soon after that, Kimberly Wilkins (aka Sweet Brown from the U.S.) was interviewed after her apartment building caught fire, adding that she was concerned for her safety due to pre-existing bronchitis. Brigette Bailey (aka Rosie) from Maxfield, JA became the latest Youtube sensation when she asked for some kind of assistance/remuneration after flooding in her community caused significant property damage.

Finding these people entertaining does not make their message any less serious, yet they are made spectacles of in the media. I don’t need to remind you of Mr. Brown’s humiliation on Smile Jamaica. In 2011, the height of “Cliff-twang” frenzy, he was invited to perform at Sumfest. This year Ms. Bailey was invited to do the same. What exactly were they supposed to perform? The “songs” that have sprung up in the wake of their news reports were created by a local DJ who remixed the news segment. They’re not original recordings. Their words have been taken and twisted into something to be laughed at and forgotten about.

I see the same attitude every day in rehearsal. People get laughed at for trying by others who aren’t even bothering to make an attempt. We’re content to find each other amusing probably because we find it so hard to take each other seriously. (colonial mentality?) People think that if your message isn’t coated in fire and brimstone, that it’s not worth listening to, that you don’t really mean it.  This kind of thinking is so extremely backward I’m surprised Jamaicans don’t walk funny. We need a psychological overhaul. I haven’t the faintest idea of how to go about changing our thought process, but we can’t continue like this for very long. Something has to give.

The Robertsfield bridge in Mavis Bank has yet to be fixed, by the way.

When you pick up a newspaper and the front page just pisses you off

This article was on the front page of the Gleaner on June 8, 2013:

Senior Rastafarian Says No to Repealing Buggery Law

And I saw red, but not because of the inherent human rights homosexuality debate. That is NOT the only issue at play here. I got angry because no one actually understands the entirety of what they’re opposing.

A while back on my Emergency Medicine clerkship we had to do a workshop on Sexual Assault, which included researching Jamaica’s (ancient) Offences Against the Person Act and the (slightly less ancient) Sexual Offences Act of 2009. When I say ancient, I mean the Act has been around since colonial times – 1864, to be exact – almost 100 years before we gained Independence. It includes among other things, edicts against obstructing a clergyman in the performance of his duties (for which you can be given up to two years hard labour). But I digress.

Sections 76 and 77 of the Offences Against the Person Act speak about the Unnatural Offence of buggery:

Unnatural Offences
76. Whosoever shall be convicted of the abominable crime of buggery, committed either with mankind or with any animal, shall be liable to be imprisoned & kept to hard labour for a term not exceeding ten years.

77. Whosoever shall attempt to commit the said abominable crime, or shall be guilty of my assault with intent to commit the same, or of any indecent assault upon any male person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and being convicted thereof, shall be
liable to be imprisoned for a term not exceeding seven years, with or without hard labour.

I’m going to assume these sections are speaking strictly about adults (i.e. persons over 18) because there are no references to age.

Sections 44-67 of the Offences Against the Persons Act have been replaced by the Sexual Offences Act of 2009, which defines rape as follows:

3. -(1) A man commits the offence of rape if he has sexual intercourse with a woman­
(a) without the woman’s consent; and
(b) knowing that the woman does not consent to sexual intercourse or recklessly not caring whether the woman consents or not.

Pay special attention to gender designations here. In our constitution it is legally impossible for a man to be raped, either by a woman or by another man. You’d think the anti-buggery groups would be all over fixing this. And the consequences for a man convicted of rape?

6.—( 1) A person who
(a) commits the offence of rape (whether against section 3 or 5) is liable on conviction in a Circuit Court to imprisonment for Iife or such other term as the court considers appropriate, not being less than fifteen years;

What can happen to a man is in fact called grievous sexual assault, and the description is a little more graphic:

4.–(1) A person (hereinafter called “the offender”) commits the Grievous sexual offence of grievous sexual assault upon another (hereinafter called the “victim”) where, in the circumstances specified in subsection (3), the offender­
(a) penetrates the vagina or anus of the victim with­
(i) a body part other than the penis of the offender; or
(ii) an object manipulated by the offender;
(b) causes another person to penetrate the vagina or anus of the victim by­
(i) a body part other than the penis of that other
person; or
(ii) an object manipulated by that other person;
(c) places his penis into the mouth of the victim;
(d) causes another person to place his penis into the mouth of the victim;
(e) places his or her mouth onto the vagina, vulva, penis or anus of the victim; or
(f) causes another person to place his or her mouth onto the vagina, vulva, penis or anus of the victim.

And the penalty for an offender convicted of this?

6.—( 1) A person who
(b) commits the offence of grievous sexual assault is liable-­
(i) on summary conviction in a Resident Magistrate’s Court, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years;
(ii) on conviction in a Circuit Court, to imprisonment for life or such other term as the court considers appropriate not being less than fifteen years.

For children under 16, the law is very, very clear: anything of a vaguely sexual nature constitutes an offence. And I do mean anything:

(2) An adult commits an offence where he or she, for a sexual purpose, does any act specified in subsection (3).
(3) The acts referred to in subsection (2) are
a) touching, directly or indirectly, with a part of his or her body or with an object, any part of the body of the child; or
(b) inviting, counselling or inciting a child to touch, directly or indirectly, with a part of the body or with an object, the body of­
(i) any person, including the body of the adult who so invites, counsels or incites; or
(ii) the child.
(4) For the purposes of this section an act is done for a sexual purpose if a reasonable person would consider that—­
(a) whatever its circumstances or any person’s purpose in relation to it, it is because of its nature sexual; or
(b) because of its nature and because of its circumstances or the purpose of any person in relation to it (or both) it is sexual.

So our youth under 16 are fairly protected. . . under the law.

But what about adolescents in the gap between 16 and 18, where the lines of consent blur and where children (because they’re still children) are so very prone to getting into all kinds of sexual scrapes? This is a legal grey area, and crimes are perpetuated on the over-16-under-18 age group because there is very little the law can do in their defense. On top of that, not many young men are willing to come forward and admit they’ve been victims. They can’t even admit to being victims of rape, when that has been the case.

What do you call it when a 17-year old boy is forcibly sexually assaulted by a 40-year old man?

Why is this crime any less criminal than if the victim were female?

Why should the offender be granted any less time?

Are our boys less valuable than our girls? 

The call for a repeal of the anti-sodomy laws is not just a call-to-arms for homosexual rights activists; it is a necessary revision of ancient codes that are hindering rather than helping legal justice. This issue needs to be addressed, and soon. This is not window dressing; the debates will not be pretty. But we are not helping anyone – least of all our young men – by sweeping this whole discussion under the carpet because Jamaican men simply can’t have the question of sexuality out in the open.

I don’t doubt that the Church has the numbers to ensure that the buggery debate never reaches Parliament, Mr. High-and-Mighty Church Leader, but you need to put your petty war with homosexuals aside. There is much more at stake here than your religious morals. Namely, protecting the innocence of our youth.

Read.Robin stands by her secular moral code and is convinced that the state just needs to tell the church to bugger off.
Click these links to read the entire Offences Against the Person Act and Sexual Offences Act.

homophobia at utech: my very visceral reaction

Last week the UWI allowed a group of people who believed humans were created by alien scientists to have a seminar on their campus. This wasn’t handled very well by most of the students in attendance.

Last week also, two male students at UTECH were caught in a bathroom in what is rumoured to be a ‘compromising position’. This was handled even worse.

The issue at hand is our extreme intolerance of anything different or other. It’s not that the students were right in fraternizing (or whatever it is they were doing) in a public place, but that’s not why one of them was attacked. If we’re going to be entirely honest, everyone knows that if he had been caught with a girl whoever found them would have simply looked the other way. Maybe even shared a knowing look with him afterwards. The incident would have probably sent his ratings up a bit.

But because of the who and not the what, this young man was held against his will by the same security guards he ran to for help. He was abused physically and verbally by the persons whose job it is to ensure the safety of all UTECH students. But there is something about the Jamaican mind that can conveniently separate the homosexual from the rest of humanity (aided by the derogatory words we call them) therefore making it okay to treat them like crap.

When you listen to the video, it’s all ‘battyman’ and ‘fish’ and some student telling the guards that they can’t have all the fun. All any of the observers cares about is that he’s gay, not that he was caught in a public bathroom doing something he probably shouldn’t have been doing.

On the other hand (and I’m probably going to get a lot of flak for this): these guys must have been either really brave or really stupid to do their business in a public bathroom in one of the most violently homophobic countries in the world.

Just to keep you informed:

  • There was a petition floating around to get the security guard fired (he has been).
  • Observer and Gleaner had been following the story up until three days ago, but I don’t see anything new. This is the shortest 9 day wonder like, ever.
  • The delightful Carla Moore has a (rather lengthy) spiel on the whole incident in which she tries to decode the “bun battyman” mentality of Jamaicans. And I love her for it.

The socioeconomics of sympathy

Five days ago TVJ carried a news story about residents in an inner city community – Majesty Gardens, never heard of it – that completely ticked me off. These women are unemployed young mothers who dropped out of high school and started having children from as early as thirteen. A resident estimates that half of the girls who get pregnant in the community are underage.

[News Clip from Thursday, April 26]

But what really, really, really upset me was this exchange with one of the unemployed mothers. She has nine children. And she’s 34.

ND: Contraceptive is for animal, not human. So I don’t take any. The Bible told us to multiply, not take away. So I just multiply, and God will provide for them.
TVJ: Are you serious about that?
ND: Ye
TVJ: Are you struggling?
ND: Hard. But tru the mercy of God, [Him] keep me.
TVJ: Don’t you think if you had just two or one, you’d be able to manage?
ND: No, a di same problem mi would have cause I don’t have a job.

I have to admit, her argument is original. I’ve never heard that contraceptives weren’t for humans, and the only people I hear with the ‘go forth and multiply’ quip are Rastafarian men. I can’t even fathom her thought process. How does she feed them? How does she send them to school?

Cycle of Poverty

But I am beyond any kind of sympathy. These are the same people who end up having more kids they can’t afford. These are the same people who end up stealing light and water. And these are the same people who end up scamming, or whose children end up scamming. This is a cycle that refuses to be broken and frankly my dear, I can no longer give a damn.

It is exactly the kind of backward thinking and closed-minded ignorance that has trapped so many Jamaicans in a rut of poverty and decreased QoL. When will we stop thinking and acting and feeling like we are somehow owed something by people whose only claim to superiority is that they simply tried harder? Sure, we can point all the fingers we want at Slavery for brainwashing us into thinking that whoever’s in charge of us “slaves” is obligated to provide for us while we just do some manual labour in the fields. But you know what? Big finger never lie.

My grandma raised me on the futility of crocodile tears and the mantra of ‘who caan hear will feel’. That is the outcome for children with too many rights and not enough responsibilities: they reap what they sow.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t help out those people who don’t work as hard are less fortunate, but there’s a difference between giving a man food everyday and teaching him how to fish.


Something Current | Jamaica is the world capital for depressing news

Sometimes it rains (a lot) in paradise.

Yesterday might have been April Fool’s, but there was hardly anything funny about the tragedies that came to light over the course of the weekend. From car crashes to child abuse, the newspapers had no short of depressing, traumatizing and otherwise horrific stories to share with the public.

Three separate traffic collisions claimed the lives of six people in one day. Portmore. Manchester. Falmouth. Every single one of them caused by careless mistakes, bad driving and misjudgements on the part of the driver. Seriously? We need to get our acts together.

A doctor came forward with stories of abused children, and I’m talking babies, here, not just pre-teens or teenagers. And they were all abused by family members, people they trusted. Pastors, fathers, babysitters. What is wrong with these people? Some of these children died from their injuries. The ones who survive will never get another chance at a normal childhood; children’s resilience can only go so far.

Another, albeit more controversial news story that broke over the weekend was the doctor who got arrested for performing an abortion on a 16 year old girl. Apparently she reported him after she developed complications. The story on the Jamaica Observer’s website is vague (deliberately so?), but public sentiment will turn the tide against the doctor because we the church continues to be staunchly pro-life. I feel it for this man, 74 years old and facing a criminal charge. Possibly his first. Unless he was the one who got the girl pregnant, I’m going to be firmly on his side.

Happier stories tomorrow, promise.