Sunday, 5 June 2016

Will Jamaica Use Croton Extract to Help Fight Chik V, Zika V and Dengue Epidemics?



When I was growing up in rural Jamaica, croton was synonymous with duppy or graves. So much so that although the plant had very beautiful colours and didn't require much tending to as they are very hardy, tropical plants, people didn't really plant them in their gardens or near their yards as they were known as duppy bush.

Back in those days, people lived in board houses and were much too poor to afford the kind of grandiose structures and in some cases, monstrosities that now house the dead. Persons were buried and the mound of dirt that came from digging the grave used to create a mound on top of the grave. This mound of earth would eventually settle back to the level of the earth around it and the only, lasting way to mark where our loved ones were installed permanently was to plant crotons where headstones would be placed. Marking graves was very important as a sign of respect and to make sure that yam banks were not dug on graves etc. It also helped person find the graves after the earth that had been piled up settled.

It is only fitting then that this week, an article published online stated that Jerouen Paul Lumabao, a 17 year old high school student in the Philippines discovered that extracts from the Croton plant killed the eggs of the Aedes Aegypti mosquito which is responsible for spreading Dengue, Chikungunya (Chik V) and Zika V viruses which have plagued the Caribbean and parts of Latin America for years. Chik V and Zika V have become nightmarish pubic health concerns in the past two years, both with the potential for long-term harmful effects to persons who contract the virus as well as to children of those affected, as is the cause with Zika V with an alarming number of pregnant women who contract the Zika Virus giving birth to babies that are brained damaged with associated neurological impairment including negative impacts to mobility and muscle and limb formation and development. The long term impacts of Chik V to persons affected in the Caribbean region have not been studied nor documented.

With Jamaica, home to Usain Bolt and Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce and numerous other top athletes, now officially designated the sprint capital of the world; halting and preventing the spread of these debilitating viruses that have long term effect to muscular movements and dexterity is paramount to protecting the nation's current and future world athlete champions and is also very important in safeguarding public health,



I can only hope that the current Jamaican government led by recently elected Prime Minister; Andrew Holness  will jump on this opportunity to help rid Jamaica of this serious public health threat.

Because the plant extract will not be ingested by humans but poured into catchment areas where the mosquito lays its eggs, this should make it easier for the government to produce the extract and use it in national mosquito eradication projects. There will be no need for long, drawn out and expensive processes of testing and laboratory work which would make it difficult for Jamaica to undertake.

This method of mosquito control and eradication would be a much more environmentally friendly than the current mass spraying of toxic fumes as part of regular, nightly fumigation efforts especially in parts of Portmore, St. Catherine, possibly one of the most densely populated areas in Jamaica. The spraying exercises are carried out in areas of Portmore with huge bodies of stagnant water known as canals, remnants of the original swamp lands which compromised most of Portmore before it was transformed into housing developments. The fumes generated by the fumigation exercises are very strong and no doubt toxic to humans. I am hoping that local environmental groups such as The Jamaica Environment Trust will help lead the charge on this by applying the appropriate pressure to raise awareness and spark government action.

I also hope the Pan American Health Organisation and World Health Organisation which have both been spending large sums of money in the Caribbean and Latin America on Chik and Zika V awareness campaigns will see it fit to funnel some funds into developing this croton extract.

Other Economic Benefits
There is no patent held for planting or cultivating croton so there is the added potential of creating thousands of jobs to grow and harvest the plant and produce and package/bottle the extract. Here is one sure way in which Andrew Holness can deliver the economic growth he so stridently promised a few months ago on the campaign trail and protect the health and well being of millions of Jamaicans

Other Cultural Use of Croton In Jamaica
An article published in 1988 in the Jamaica Journal, a quarterly publication of the Institute of Jamaica documents the practice of croton's use to mark graves in rural Jamaica as well as it's use in religious practices and ceremonies of Revivalists, Kumina and Pocomania churches/groups. CLICK THIS LINK TO READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE.

A Revivalist church in St. Thomas, Jamaica with empty glass bottles, basins of water and a croton tree in the centre. Photo courtesy of The Jamaica Observer
Croton leaves hold pride of place on a table in a Revival Church

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Death: The Eternal Silence: Of DEATH .... DYING & COUSINS

Jeffery McIntyre 
When the people who used to beat you if you misbehaved on your way home (including your mother), starts dying, it bothers you.

However, when the ones who you grew up with begin to die, you become incredibly alarmed, saddened and reflective. It reminds you of your own mortality when someone your age who you share memories with, die. In an unnerving and sobering way it reminds you that it could have been you and it becomes hard to separate the fact that you are still living with the fact that they are dead.

My cousin Jeff died a few weeks ago and was buried yesterday in Lapland, Catadupa, St. James. I grew up in Belfont, one of many neigbouring districts to Lapland that all shared the same post office, Public Works Department, Clinic and Basic and All Age Schools. Those essential public domains connected us and were the reason we met many times a week when we went to collect letters, go for a check-up or to dress a cut or get a baby vaccinated and to learn. But my cousins and I who lived many districts away, were even more closely connected by My mother (Ms. Amy) and their father; (Mass Hubert .. who we called Uncle Ubert) as they were both VERY close. They attended the same church Pastored by Elder Davis (Now deceased) and they shared the same mother: Miss Harry, a woman I have never met but who is as real to me as my mother. Miss Harry, our maternal grandmother, was always there like a hanging shadow, especially because my eldest brother, Phillip always spoke about her. He is extremely nostalgic and the truth be told, he is the one who keeps us connected with the parts of our familial history that happened before we were born or from a time we were too young then to remember.

I have often wondered why she came to be named after a man and what her other names were. Next time I speak to Phillip I must remember to ask him. (*Note to self*)

But my mother and Jeff's dad were very close and Uncle Ubert would come to Belfont maybe once a month or so to help my mother in her grung (especially to dig yam banks) which was a pretty strenuous undertaking and more suited to men with more muscle power than women. He would arrive early in the morning, (usually Saturdays) with most if not all of his many children in tow (he and his wife, Miss Merline had between 9 & 10 children from my recollection) and our yard would erupt into a bevvy of activity and laughter and fun and 'cousiness' that is hard to describe. It just felt happy and crowded and nice. In those days, large families were the norm. My mother gave birth to 13 children.

My bigger cousins like Samson, Patrick, Bunny and Jeff as well as my bigger brothers who still lived at home; Earl, Winston, Pete and Paul, would follow Mama and Uncle Ubert to bush (which is what we called the place where the grung was) and as you can imagine, is pure bush over or round there which is why it was referred to as such. Bush and mud and ticks and cow doo doo and mud and just.... eeewww!

Anyways it is where most of the food we ate was planted and reaped so I'm not going to stay here and act all stoosh. My mother's grung is what helped sustain us.

So while they went to bush to work, My mother and Miss Merline would get busy in the kitchen cooking lunch and us, the younger children, Me, Garfield, Dave and Donnette would mostly run each other around the house and make each other miserable anyway we could and sometimes we would go down to the river to bathe and catch crayfish but for the most part our activities were confined to the yard while we waited impatiently for lunch to finish cooking and share out. The two bigger girls from either family, Precious and Joy; I am not sure what they did with themselves during this period of grung planting and waiting for lunch. As I was younger, I didn't really pay them much mind, nor was I encouraged to try to find out what they were up to but I suppose they kept themselves busy as well.

The younger children from each family, Kevin from ours, and Karen and her twin brother Owen, were not born until years later I believe, long after the informal monthly family get togethers had stopped.

Mass Ubert was one of a few people in those parts that went away to America on Farm Work every year and whenever he came back he would always send and call us to come for things he brought back for us. I loved that man and still remember the hats he wore and his booming bass as part of the Sunday morning choir at church. His eyes were piercing and kind and always held a twinkle. In a world where my mom and dad were separated because he was an insufferable drunk and she was in church, Uncle Ubert for me represents for me, my earliest memories of a text book dad. He died before all his kids were grown when he feel off the back of a pick up driven by Desrick while on his way from someone's funeral in another Parish. His death was unexpected and made no sense. I still miss him.

Read more about my Dad and his strange death here

Jeff is the first of his siblings to die but I guess his dad now has some company up in the skies or wherever dead people go. He has been alone a long, long, time. But that is no comfort to me for having lost one of my best cousins whom I loved dearly and I cannot begin to imagine how his brothers and sisters feel. He died leaving children, all of whom are grown and none of whom I have met yet. And it reminds me how fragmented we have become generally as a society within which families exist as we move away from our rural communities to seek opportunities in Montego Bay or Kingston and then further away to various foreign countries to pursue our personal and professional goals. If any of Jeff's children ever read this I would like to wish you heartfelt condolences on the passing of your dad and hope I get to meet you all soon my second cousins. I hear one of his daughters worked at CVM; a Jamaican television station, (pursuing an early career in journalism which was my main career path) and is now studying law at the UWI. That is awesome news.

I would also like to send deepest sympathies to Miss Merline, Jeff's mom, I am a mother and I cannot begin to imagine what it would feel like to lose a child. Only God can give you the comfort you need in this very difficult time. To Denise, the mother of Jeff's children, (I remember her as a dark beautiful, petite girl with a shy smile and the sister of my very good friend Sharon Smith). To Denise, I also offer condolences. It is hard to lose someone you share memories with and made babies with even if you were no longer together. When certain life experiences are shared with someone, they become intricately linked with who you are. Interwoven into your personal history and emotions.

My favourite cousin: Garfield McIntyre and my mother on the verandah of the house in Belfont that I grew up in. He had traveled several miles from Montego Bay and braved the really bad roads in Belfont to come and give my mother a lift to church as she usually had to walk many miles, mostly uphill, on arthritic feet to get to and from Church on Sundays. A journey that took minimum 1 and a half to 2 hours minimum each way.
The person beaming at them both from the doorway is my brother Dave, who always accompanied my mother to church. He still attends the same church and tells me whenever we speak that he has been praying for me. His prayers work! :)
To his brothers and sisters, especially Garfield, who is my favourite cousin of all is siblings; I am truly sorry you lost your brother. I have lost two of my brothers so far, both to tragic circumstances and I know it must be a difficult time for you all. Life continues as I know you all already know and time heals.

Last night when I saw my niece Trish-Ann posted pics from the funeral, I wondered how it felt for him to be out there there under the earth in the dark and cold night all by himself and I mourned for him. Death is still the unconquerable divide that separates two worlds only one of which we know. I always get sad when I have to watch a loved one get covered by heavy dirt while encased in a wooden box and then further encased in concrete and left all alone to the elements while everyone turn and walk away after the burial headed back to the business of living until it's their turn to be left alone like that while others leave. It is sobering and jolting and a bit scary to say the least. Death: The Eternal Silence from which no one emerges except in dreams.

Makes me think that an idea I saw circulating on Facebook last week via a video post of planting our loved ones in pods that would then morph into trees might not be a bad idea. So much better to imagine your loved one as a thriving, vibrant tree then a silent presence encased in so much and buried underground. Makes it even hard to breathe when I visit my relative's graves.

Jeff, you have made the transition, you have moved on to where we all are headed inevitably. Rest in Peace my cousin and hopefully, we will one day meet. I hand't seen you in years before you died but I remember everything about you and I still hold you dear.


      Capsula Mundi - Burial Pods


The house I grew up in in Belfont, St. James and where my cousins and I would meet once every month when their dad came to help my mother with her grung. This pic was taken by the driver who took my 2 nephews and niece up to the country sometime last year (I believe) when they went to Jamaica to bury their maternal Aunt (Miss Beryl) who had died. These 3 are My brother, Phillip's (Whom I mentioned in this post) children.
Pictured here are: Desmond, Audrey and Little Phillip or (Phillip Jnr.)

Somehow the house seemed bigger then. Everything seemed bigger when you were little. LOL

Saturday, 9 March 2013

POST SCRIPTS TO MY MOTHER

P.S.

My mother never hugged me much
or not at all

I cannot ever remember
being enveloped in my mother's ample bosom
and held there for a while

Among my carefully kept memories of her
is not one solitary recall of a time
I felt the soft folds
of her flesh against mine
as I huddled in her lap

My mother wasn't one of those 'lovey dovey' mommies
that gave out hugs willy nilly
We learnt to look for love from her
in other things

Like how she would smile indulgently
or laugh uproariously
when something one of
of us said or did
amused her

or how she would always manage
to give us dinner
to ease the hunger pangs in our bellies
Although she never earned a wage
in the 60 years she lived

My mother was a woman of God
and prayed often
especially at nights
So we learnt to look for love
in her nightly supplications to God
on our behalf

And the many letters she wrote
by the light of the kerosene lamp
and the letters that would arrive in response
through the post office
with money in them
For sending us to school
For buying groceries
For doctor bills
For medicine

and when she would tiptoe like a hanging shadow
among us to make sure
that those of us that slept bad
weren't squeezing the living daylights out of each other
And that who ever had a tendency to wet the bed
was shaken awake and made to urinate
at intervals
We felt her love
And were grateful
when we all woke up dry in the morning

and if it was a Sunday,
to the rich aroma
of her creamy chocolate tea
made from cocoa pods she had picked herself
from the cocoa walk below our house
beside the tumbled down building
that was the old Sunday School
and cut and put out to dry in the hot sun
on half sheets of zinc for days
then roasted in the dutch pot
over a fire with acrid smoke that brought tears
to her eyes when she bent over it
to make sure the beans
weren't being burnt too much
and then pounded in the mortar
she kept in the corner of the kitchen
which doubled as a seat turned upside down
When it wasn't being mercilessly pounded
by her arthritic hands

My mother never hugged me
But I felt her love
in how
as she walked with me
to the bus stop
and on the long ride
to Montego Bay
to hand me over to the old couple
that I lived with in Goodwill for several years
she explained why she had to do it

So that I could have a chance to learn
As she didn't have the money
to send me to school
And how I was very bright
and would amount to something one day

All my life
I have felt the need to prove her right
In the lonely months and years that followed
I read every book in sight
And grew attached to words

I filled my days, nights
and the yawning emptyness
within my heart
for my mother
my brothers
sister
cousins and friends
with words and books
and thought of faraway places
including Belfont
the place I still called home
even though I only returned some holidays
for short visits

Her letters that came often
through the post office
consoled me
made me know that I was loved
and remembered
and missed

My mother never hugged us
Never hugged me
much
But I felt her love
Every night during mango season
When I would come home from work
To find a pot of freshly washed and very ripe mangoes
Under the cupboard in the kitchen
instead of my plate of dinner
because she knew I loved mangoes more than food

My mother never hugged me much

But every day
when I am not too busy
with making sure that I 'amount to something'
I wish she were STILL here
so I could love her back in the
ways that she loved me THEN

And NOW
Every night
I walk through my daughter's room
and make sure she is still in bed and breathing
and kiss her cheek
and when she is awake,
I hug her
until she is sick of it

Maybe
the hugs
I am giving her so freely NOW
are the hugs I
I wish I had received
from my mother
THEN.

Friday, 8 March 2013

TAPESTRIES of WOMANHOOD of PAIN of KNOWING....

Yesterday
I met a sister
and we shared the common pain
of having both lost our mothers to
death

But not just death
to Cancer
That silent killer
which burrows insidiously
into our softest tissues
and hide
only to painfully announce itself
often when it is too late to do anything about it

Across a desk
with a hallway backdrop
teeming with people
We bonded over exchanges
of what it meant to be WOMEN

That unique experience of womanhood
assigned to us at gestation
and we had no say in it

but we concluded
that we were happy
we were born as women
and not men

We mulled over the eternity
of death
of NEVER being able to pull our mothers back
even for one shining moment
to compare notes of womanhood
notes of KNOWING

When truth and wisdom arrive
finally, gradually
sometimes carried
in our own daughters'
eyes
actions
bodies
language
presence

We were silent sometimes
as we pondered this

I had seen her often
through her open door
As I hurried down the hallway
on my way to somewhere else
and I had wondered briefly who she was

Yesterday I found out
That she is a woman
just like myself
With Canadian and Jamaican experiences
And a mother only months dead
Though mine had been dead for years

We bonded over PAIN
And the unique experiences of
WOMANHOOD.  - ANDREA DOWNER
_____________________________
TODAY, March 8th is recognized by the United Nations as WOMEN'S DAY, But for women, there is NEVER a day when we are NOT ourselves. However, we are grateful for the annual, global day of recognition.


BLACK WOMAN - JUDY MOWATT

Saturday, 8 December 2012

JOHN CROW, BRER ANANCY, BRER TOCUMA, ABNA DUPPY (JAMAICAN ORAL & FOLK TRADITIONS)

JOHN CROWS
Instead of writing this, I should have my nose buried in copious notes feverishly attempting to brand certain key points that had been covered over the past semester in a course I am taking at York University in preparation for a mid-term exam that is to be held tomorrow afternoon! On a Sunday!!! In Jamaica where I grew up, Sundays are hallowed days! Even for people who are NOT regular church goers! Even the most dedicated farmer or low-life lay-a-about in the district would take the occasional bath and put on some decent clothes and look respectable on Sundays.

In Belfont where I am from, I don't even think anybody even got drunk on a Sunday! In fact, I don't even think any rum bars were opened on a Sunday. Even the shops that were grocery shops and bars combined shut down the bar part of the business even if they did open half day to sell pounds of chicken, rice, sugar and other things necessary to make the traditional rice and peas and carrot drinks Sunday dinners that were the highlight of every week in those days. As a matter of fact, on Sundays, the shops never used to really open of such, just a one window where the shopkeeper would sell the few items that would be purchased on Sundays.

Cheese Trix , suck suck and sweety (most times purchased with part or all of we collection money). And Serve-mi-Long and sandwich biscuit on the way back to bolster our waning strength for the long treks that it usually required to get us to church and back in clothes that looked and felt good when we did put them on in the morning. But by the time church over and every body had seen you in you pretty dan dan and you were on your way home, you couldn't wait to come outta the scorching sun fi go teck dem off and put on yuh judging clothes, eat yuh Sunday dinner and wait pon the fudge man fi come chug chugging up the road pon him bike.

Sundays were sacred! Trust mi! I could never imagine writing an exam or doing anything strenuous pon a Sunday back home. But here, having voluntarily transferred myself to a foreign land, I must confront the glaring differences in culture, lifestyle, grammar, syntax and practices and while it is a process I am learning and growing from, it takes much getting used to.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

"USING KIN TEET TO KIBBA HEART BUN" - MY MOTHER Laughed & CRIED at the Same Time

My mother had a BIG laugh... A BELLY laugh. Growing up, I both loved and feared my mother, because given that I was NEVER afraid to speak my mind, her fists and my mouth would connect in the most painful ways..OFTEN!!

I was a NUFF.. facety (feisty) child, given to back chatting others even those older than me, and a Christian, holy-roller-tongue-talking Jamaican woman will talk to her child until she becomes hoarse but will not hesitate to discipline her with some proper beatings when necessary.

Yep! I got plenty licks growing up, both from my brother Winston, who I mentioned in THIS blog post and my no no-nonsense mother; Miss Amy.

For a lady with arthritis in her wrists and knee cups and who was not very slim, she was very adept at running me down and tackling me to the ground and ensuring I had her FULL attention!

I remember one such murderation with acute and painful clarity. I think that may have been the last time she really beat me like that, because all of us have natural self-preservation instincts and I did want to live to grow up; so I learned to mind my mouth and mumble the most grievous things under my breath. Sigh...

My Brother Winston and my big sis, Precious. He is probably my Fav brother. He always act so PROTECTIVE of EVERYBODY. He is the brother who used to kill mi wid rhatid licks when mi used to give trouble growing up and he gave me the CRUCIAL two dollars that made me the woman I am today.
But more than the beatings, I remember my mother's laugh. She didn't laugh quite often; because what is there to really laugh about when you are single handedly raising 12 children on your own, with no fixed salary and nothing but your faith in God, your nightly prayers and the little money that the fathers of the nieces and nephews and grand children you were keeping until they could send for them in foreign managed to send you through the post office?

What is there to really laugh about when the man who fathered nine of the twelve children you bore came home stinking of rum every night and especially on the Friday of every fort night when he got paid, with empty pockets and the sorry looking pieces of meat from the butcher shop he helped out at? READ ABOUT EUSTACE, nicknamed BLOOD, Miss Amy's husband and MY father HERE

I remember that my mother only laughed when one of us children gave her a really good joke! And she laughed and laughed and laughed. And I remember that she would playfully berate us for making her laugh by stating, with apologetic mirth in her eyes "Unno no easy enno pickney!" LOL As if she had to apologize to her misery for having forgotten it for a while.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Bay Rum, Vicks Vapour Rub, Phensic - My Mother: Her Scents & Secrets

Mom
No, Mama
is the woman lying there
beneath that unrepentant earth


Her boned knuckles clutched around 
the off-white King James Version Bible
we buried with her with

because it was her favourite book.

Although it had pages that were falling out;
it had many verses underlined 

and I felt the words that she read to comfort her
during hard times, ALIVE,
might aid her as she ventured into the unknown.

It was that same Bible that fed her Faith
and prayers which she tried to leave with us
as she died without leaving a will,
What would have been the point?
There was nothing to be divided up
or shared anyway!

She lived and farmed on 'family plots'
of land
handed down
from generation to generation
unerringly

We also buried her with her glasses
'Cause she could never read properly without them
And to this day I am still aghast
That her best friend,
Aunt Dor [Doris] insisted that we gave HER
the glasses
As where 'Amy was going she naah go need dem!'

I barely held my peace
When some years later,
My brother Dave
told me that Aunt Dor
who was older than my mother
is now blind
But refuses to die.


MOMS make the world seem a better place
Less frightening somehow
They are tangible.. visible confirmation
of the 'medium' via which we entered this world
Ceremonial goddesses 

whose 'templed' bodies 
'hosts' our second most important rite of passage.

I remember clearly 

that my mom's bosom always held icy mint sweeties
Unless they were in her black bag 

hung on a nail behind her bedroom door


And she ALWAYS had a safety pin or two 
in the folds of her clothes somewhere
In case something needed mending 

and no needle and thread were nearby
And a hair pin pan that also held hairnets


And a bed head that was her personal pharmacy
Her main remedies: Bay Rum and Phensic and Vicks Vapour Rub


She used to make Cornmeal pudding:
"Fire a top, Fire a Bottom, Hallelujah inna middle"
And Plaintain porridge
ANd blue draws also called tie-a-leaf.
Remembering and Missing my mom: Amy Downer. 
CONTINUE TO REST IN PEACE
_____________________________________________________
P.S. My mother died with secrets But I DIDN"T tell them here as promised.
When writing about the dead and especially some one as your mother

One wants to be careful what secrets you tell.


I have been struggling for months with HOW to write about my mother
I am getting there
I hope to write that blog post by the end of this week.


My Big Sis Precious at My Mom's Grave in Belfont, St. James
Jamaica in March 2012.