Harvard, sustainability, Exuma, and COB

Yesterday morning, Facebook posts notwithstanding, I was in Long Island waiting to board a plane to Georgetown, Exuma, as part of a ten-day long ethnographic study of Exuma, Long Island and Cat Island.

The study is part of a longer-term project whose ultimate goal is to create a plan for the sustainable development of Exuma and its cays, a plan which, it's hoped, can provide a blueprint for the development of other islands. This year, as part of the project, seven Bahamian students doing Field Experience at the College of The Bahamas have teamed up with 16 students from the Harvard Department of Anthropology and the Graduate School of Design to carry out ethnographic field studies. There are several teams of students, most of them in Great Exuma and the Cays, but also in Cat Island and Long Island.

Since Friday, I've been travelling with the professor of the Harvard course to the different locations where the students are deployed, meeting with them and talking to them about their personal projects, helping to troubleshoot (where possible or necessary). On Friday and Saturday we were in Long Island, helping the students there settle in. Yesterday we moved on to Georgetown, where several events intertwine: for me, the main one is working with my students, but there are workshops and meetings between the people in Georgetown and the people from Harvard. What's exciting about it is that we're working together on a piece of ethnography that is put together like a mosaic. Ethnography, the in-depth study of a single community at a single point in time, is traditionally done by a single anthropologist who goes to a different society from her own and lives there for an extended period—at least fifteen months—they used to specify in Cambridge, which allowed the researcher to observe a full year of activity and also gave a three-month cushion to permit a working level of acclimatisation.

What's happening in this case is something a little different. Researchers from Harvard have been working since 2012 on different elements, and the project will continue through 2015—a five-year span that will incorporate perspectives from a wide range of researchers. Some are student researchers, and some are working on doctorates and post-doctorates. Some are established researchers as well. Some are students of design, some are anthropologists. It's the mosaic approach to ethnography, and now, in 2014, the voices of Bahamian students of the College of The Bahamas have been added.The project has murky connections, to be sure. In 2010-2011, the Bahamas National Trust and the Free National Movement government came under heavy fire after the revelation that the Aga Khan had been given permission to create a marina for Bell Island, his private island in the Exuma Land and Sea Park. The process required dredging of the sea bed and the conversion of an inland pond, and there was strong opposition to the development. (That opposition, according to more recent reports, has abated somewhat, as the PLP is now the government in power; the current narrative seems to be that far less damage was done to the environment than those in opposition feared. Be that as it may. The permissions were given, the development has taken place, and we must all, especially those of us who are the citizens and stewards of this remarkable country, move on.It's probably no coincidence at all that the Aga Khan has established a gift and grants to research and plan for the sustainable development of Exuma and the Cays. Cynics like me will have the tendency to regard this largesse as a payoff for being allowed to do in the Exuma Land and Sea Park far more than Bahamians who have been living on the communities within that park for over two hundred years. There is certainly more than a whiff of inequity about the permissions given to the über-rich to develop private islands in the Exuma Cays, even within the Park, while locals are prevented from using the resources which have provided them with subsistence for generations. But the reality is that the permissions have been given, the inequities are being enforced, and all that we are left with is the prospect of amelioration.

And here's where we come in,  the students of the College of The Bahamas and myself. The gift and grants are being administered by Harvard University, the Aga Khan's alma mater, and since 2012 students and faculty from Harvard University have been visiting Exuma, conducting research to contribute to the island's development. In 2013, the College of The Bahamas was approached in various capacities to join the project. One of those capacities involved linking up with the fieldwork that would be carried out this spring in Exuma. I happen to teach a Field Experience course this spring, and the students in that course are required to conduct field research somewhere, at some time. The project's challenges notwithstanding, this element offers potential for that amelioration. Here's where the potential lies. One of the most fundamental flaws we have in our governmental system is the fatal disconnect between the Family Islands (I refuse to call them "Out") and New Providence, where officials sit in air-conditioned offices, meet with high-faluting investors, and carve up our archipelago for finite, quickly-spent pocketsful of cash. The way in which we administer our nation is akin to the Europeans dividing up Africa with a table, maps and a ruler during the nineteenth century, or  the Allied generals of the First World War deploying their troops to die among the barbed wire and trenches of the European front. The decisions made by our leaders are cavalier, ill-informed, greedy, and destructive. Bahamian patrimony is being disposed of for sums that spin the heads of politicians and civil servants but that carry with them heavy doses of nothingness: they mean almost nothing to the investors who offer them, and they mean less than nothing to the people who are most directly affected—the Family Islands, our fellow citizens, who are daily being deprived of their traditions, their communal means of survival, their ways of life, and their sustainability. My students, the students who attend COB, are potentially the politicians and civil servants of the future. The experience they are being offered by their involvement in the project is my hope of contributing to long-term and future change—of creating a sense of respect and understanding for the different ways of life of our archipelago, for the wealth and beauty of our environment. There's another far more pragmatic, element as well. The studies being led by Harvard are generating data about our islands, data that can and may be crucial to the future well-being of our nation. This project will end in 2015, and that end will be accompanied by a set of reports and plans which will be touted and bound and, if past experience is anything to go by, shelved. But the data itself, the raw material that is being generated in the process, will be the property of Harvard University, not of The Bahamas—unless the College of The Bahamas is involved at the base level of the research. We have missed a year of this already, but the fact that Bahamian students are now involved in the ethnographic process is one way of ensuring some access to the intellectual riches that are now being generated. And that is my ultimate goal here.

Long blog post. Big, big deal. From here on in I will be blogging, as internet permits, about the things we are discovering on our journey. Watch this space. And, my fellow Bahamians, prepare for action if needed. This is the only Bahamas we've got.

Creating theatre in Nassau, Bahamas

For those of you who may not know, I do theatre in my spare time.

“Spare” may be a misnomer. “Unassigned” may be a better way of putting it. See, I work for a living because I have to; I need that regular income, and most of all I need that health insurance. I’m a college professor. I’m not dissing that. In fact, I happen to think it’s one of the best jobs in the world. It’s the only job in this country that will pay me to do half of what I love to do, which is write and talk, and that will even include that writing and talking when it comes time for promotion, and at the same time also allow me the flexibility and space to do the other half of what I love to do. I bless the people who dreamed up the College of The Bahamas and I bless those people who made it do all these things.

But if I had my druthers, I’d be working in theatre too.

OK, for those of you who do know me, you’re probably saying to yourself: “But she does work in theatre.”

And you’d be right, after a fashion. After all, I am one of the founders of Ringplay Productions, a theatre company that’s been around for the past 13 years, and I’m the founding director of the Shakespeare in Paradise theatre festival.

But nobody pays me to do either. And so I have to do it in spare, or unassigned, or off, time.

Before you ask me, the answer is, yes, I do have a problem with this. I didn’t twenty-five years ago when I started working in Bahamian theatre. In the 1980s, the Bahamas was in its second decade of independence, and had much bigger things to worry about than about providing careers for young artists. I wasn’t raised to pursue such a career, anyway. Even though my father had studied what might well have been the most esoteric thing for a young Bahamian to study at the end of the 1950s—classical piano performance at the Royal Academy of Music, London—my parents brought me up to be employable (my father wasn’t, not in the Bahamas, so a teacher he became). So I did not go to school to study theatre, even though I liked being on stage. I grew up “knowing” that the theatre was something one did for the love of it, despite all odds, and not something one did to make money from. Even though I wanted to write plays I never thought of doing it for a living.

But times change, and people change, and the world changes. In the 1980s we weren’t welcoming five million tourists to the Bahamas and wondering what on earth there was for them to do onshore here. In the 1980s, there were still some things for them to do (although that was the decade when things started to change). There were still cabaret shows in casinos which provided regular jobs for dancers; there were still nightclubs here and there which provided regular jobs for musicians; and there were record stores that bought musicians’ music. Maybe I’m painting too rosy a picture here, but it seems to me that in the 1980s Bahamians liked Bahamian culture.

But we’re not in the 1980s anymore.

It’s the twenty-first century. And if there were every a century in which creativity could flourish, this is it. We live in a time of revolution; publishing and production and filmmaking and composing and making music are in the hands of the creative artists, rather than locked up in boardrooms thousands of miles away in somebody else’s country. And tourism is also changing to reflect this new century. Tourists are not travelling merely for sun, sand and casino winnings. They are looking for unforgettable, unique experiences, and they’re paying premium prices for them. It’s never been a better time to be a creative artist anywhere—except the Bahamas.

Those of you who know me well may remember that ten years ago this October I took on the position of Director of Cultural Affairs for the Bahamas government. Those of you who know me very well may remember what I was like when I took on that job. I am a happier person now, they tell me. I am not so angry all the time. Not so driven. (I would dispute the second, but WTH). I wasn’t always angry and driven. I took on the job believing, as one does, that I could make a difference. I took on the job to help bring back some focus to the Bahamas and to revive a sense of pride in Bahamian culture. It’s important, I believe, to for individuals to have some things done by the collective around them that they can be proud of, but in 2003 too many Bahamians were behaving as though they were ashamed.

I had no idea I was embarking on a wild and crazy ride that would take me through wildernesses and woodlands, across oceans to different continents, to high heights and even lower depths and bring me back right to where I started.

When I worked out that I had gone full circle, or maybe had made a spiral which brought me back to the same point as I’d started from, only maybe further away from where we wanted to be, I left. And started the theatre festival you see me working with today.

Shakespeare in Paradise is now five years old. We have survived by the grace of God and our own hard, hard work. We have grown and done some work that we’re proud of, and because it’s our fifth year and the fortieth anniversary of independence for this country, we’re taking a big, big risk.

And I have no idea where we’ll be by the end of October. In all honesty, it looks like we’ll be tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

The reason?

We dream too damn big.

We’re reviving Sammie Swain, the folk opera that should be my father’s legacy but is dying because it hasn’t been performed for too long.

Why it hasn’t been performed is a long story which I’m proposing to tell here on this blog. There are some villains in this story, and some heroes too, and the villains and the heroes might not be who you think they are. And it’s all part of a much bigger story, which is still being written, but which so far is shaping up to be a tragedy. I want to tell that story too.

So I called this “creating theatre in Nassau, Bahamas” because I had hoped to get to the theatre part of the story. What you have is just the setting and the backstory. Bad storytelling, but live with it.

We’ll get where we’re going if you stay with the ride.

Answering the challenge: a consideration of patriotism, democracy, and voting - part I

Of all the responses to the Voter's Manifesto I received, it was the one that challenged it that I appreciated the most. Not that I didn't welcome the people who commented and wrote in support of the Manifesto, or that I am not happy to know that the original seemed to have struck a chord with several other voters; but at the heart of democracy is, and must be, the ability to disagree. A space for dissent, for disagreement, for debate, must be built into any democratic system; democracy cannot hope to be achieved when no debate takes place.And it's not enough for room to be left for debate; that's only the first step in the democratic process. Unless debate happens—and debate that is rational, not polemic, slander or other forms of empty political rhetoric—unless, in other words, the group of people for whom democracy was provided do not exercise their freedom to speak, the process cannot survive. Silence paves the way for tyranny, and so also do name-calling and mud-slinging. There is very little that's democratic about a host of people, all clad in rainbow-coloured clothing, gathering insults into a pile to throw at one another. In that scenario, Ian Strachan's comment that no matter who wins the general election, the losers will be the Bahamian people is spot-on. What's missing from our political discussion is any reference to real, debatable issues, and any honest debate about them; and if we hope to maintain our hold on democracy, already tenuous in several respects, blind agreement can be as unproductive as senseless personal attack.So to the critique of the Manifesto, which was described by its critic as "ill-conceived, emotive, and racist". The main area of contention was the "I do not believe" section, which rejected the ideas

In response, the critic observed that

  1. the Bahamas already has a fully democratic process for electing its leadership 
  2. it is arrogant to suggest that a population of under 400,000 people has every single skill, knowledge and experience to address the issues faced by the country

and concluded that these statements "seemed designed to elicit anti-foreigner responses". The response challenged me "to defend your words and demonstrate the error of my interpretation".Here is my defence. To the first, the claim that the electoral process in The Bahamas is "fully democratic". This I challenge on many levels while at the same acknowledging the core of truth in the statement. On the one hand, we have a right to be proud of our electoral record. Great changes have taken place in The Bahamas via the ballot box, without bloodshed, and with a relatively low incidence of coercion, fraud, or corruption, the common understanding of all of the above notwithstanding. One could of course argue that there is a long-standing practice of wooing voters with cash incentives or of rewarding them for their support with gifts of food, or, apocryphally, large appliances; I could counter that with the challenge that the twenty-first century has seen an overall reduction in the value of these incentives, given the fact that neither of the two latest elections resulted in any major hiring of supporters to work in the absolute security of the Government Job. But I digress. We have a strong democratic tradition when it comes to voting for people to sit in Parliament. But we have a very poor democratic tradition when it comes to raising, debating or considering issues that have relevance for our nation; what passes for "political" discussion in our country is really personal attack and gossip dressed up in cotton tees.There are several areas in which we fail miserably in the development of the democratic tradition. The first is in the fact that, unlike other democracies, Bahamians have only one tier of representation. In our elections, two-thirds of the population may vote only for the national government. The city of Nassau has no local government, and there is no talk of any serious nature of creating one any time soon. Although we talk about urban renewal and the regeneration of downtown Nassau, the agency that we imagine will be given the responsibility for this is a corporate entity appointed by the government and accountable to no ordinary citizen. Family island communities have a measure of local governance, but urban Bahamians are governed by corporations—the Port Authority in Freeport, and whatever the title of the proposed agency will be for Nassau.The second is in the method by which our representatives are chosen. It's not good enough to invoke the Westminster model of parliamentary governance here; I am arguing that no matter where it came from, it does not meet our needs. In Nassau (where, I repeat, our Members of Parliament are the only voices we have at the governmental level), our much-touted ability to vote is seriously compromised by the fact that voters have the very last say in choosing the candidates. There are no primaries, no public weeding out of candidates, no debates, no means by which the average person can vet the candidates before they are presented to us. The selection is in the hands of the political parties alone. This dilutes the democratic process. I'm going to quote Pat Rahming here, because his poem "Power", now four decades old, continues to resonate:

cuz vot’n ain’ much powerif somebody else guh choosethe choice

The third is that the representatives are not answerable to the people from the time they are elected to the time they begin to campaign for votes three, four or five years later. Voters, having gone to the polls, made the best choice they could from among a group of (generally) unsuitables, are obliged to sit back and live with what they have done for five years. We cannot recall our representatives. Our representatives have no obligation to report to us what they have done with our trust. All we can do is watch them make fools of themselves and a mockery of our state on the Parliamentary Channel, and at best talk behind their backs—or on the air, sometimes—while smiling and kowtowing to their faces. Our so-called full democratic process has succeeded in making passive hypocrites of too many of us.The fourth is that in order to create democracy, more than a vote is needed. A voice is also not enough. We got our vote in the 1960s when women were allowed to cast ballots, and we got our voice in two parts: in the 1960s when we elected the first majority government of The Bahamas, so that the faces that ruled us looked like ours, and in the 1990s second when the Free National Movement made it possible for different perspectives to be heard on the airwaves by breaking the broadcasting monopoly that had hitherto been held, by law, by the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas. Neither fact seems to have prevented us from enacting the same dumbshow of electing and revering individuals who by their greed, lack of exposure, lack of knowledge, lack of morals, or lack of sense of self have proceeded to disenfranchise the average citizen even more. We need more than a voice; we need to be given the kind of education that breeds a sense of pride, a sense of honour and a sense of integrity so that we, the citizens, can exercise that voice in such a way that democracy is strengthened. That is clearly lacking. The very real oppression of the 1970s and 1980s—by which dissent by ordinary people was silenced in numerous ways, not least among them the very real activity of victimization, when opponents could be, and were, stripped of their livelihoods, their positions, and their reputations—has given way to an oppression of the mind. We have the channels and the means to speak, but what we have to say is ignorant of Bahamian history, lacking in substance, and small-minded.And so. We live in a nation that is nominally very democratic, but that is actually little better than any tyranny—and perhaps worse, because we are comfortable with our situations and so prefer not to rock any boats. We live and die by our passivity, and when things don't go well for us, we complain, we moan, or we lash out with knives and guns. Our democracy is a veneer, and a thin one at that.End of this part of my response; more to come

A Reader Responds to the Voter's Manifesto

Got the following response to my Voter's Manifesto. It was sent privately, for reasons the writer makes clear, but as that individual has encouraged me to post the response and to respond in my turn, I'm honouring the request.

Happy New YearI wish to challenge your Voter’s Manifesto as ill-conceived, emotive and racist. You will notice that I am doing this in a private message rather than a post.I would rather post and challenge publicly, however, unfortunately, foreigners do not have freedom of speech in the Bahamas without fear of consequences, and so I am forced to challenge you in private.I request that you honour my request for anonymity, but I encourage you to post (anonymously) and respond to my challenges in public.I have no argument with your ‘I believe’ section.I suggest that you are being intentionally emotive and encouraging misunderstanding in your ‘I do not believe’ section.‘I do not believe that Bahamians need help, time, or training to deepen and strengthen the democratic project’ I am not sure what you mean by ‘project’ but the Bahamas already has a fully democratic process for electing its leadership so this statement seems gratuitous and a little divisive to me.‘I do not believe that Bahamians need help, time or training to address those problems that our country is struggling with now’ Wow this is an arrogant statement, to suggest that a population of under 400, 000 people has every single skill, knowledge and experience to address the issues faced by the country. In this context I am reading ‘help’ as ‘help from non-Bahamians’ as I don’t see what else it can mean.Let me take an example that is close to your heart ……. COBCOB has been struggling for over 10 years now to transition from a community college to university status.• I question what percentage of Bahamian lecturers at COB became qualified for their job in the Bahamas? I believe over 98% of Bahamian COB lecturers gained their education abroad.• There are a number of foreign lecturers at COB. According to work permit requirements, COB was unable to fill those posts with Bahamians or work permits would not have been granted.Did you mean that you want to get rid of all the foreigners from COB and stop Bahamians going abroad for their education?Let me take another example………. The economy.The two largest industries in the Bahamas are tourism and off-shore banking. Both of these industries rely on foreign investment and international interactions.You might not like Sol Kerzner building Disney Land on Hogg Island, but it is one of the largest employers in the Bahamas, and there were no Bahamians in a position to build at the same level, as proven by Baha Mar, which tried for a number of years to elicit Bahamian investment and failed, and also could not generate the skill set required for high rise construction within the Bahamas.The off-shore banking industry functions through cooperation between the government of the Bahamas and international banks, who generate significant income for the Bahamas.These two industries between them generate the majority of the wealth of the Bahamas and the majority of opportunities for Bahamians. Take away the foreigners and the money of the foreigners and both will collapse, along with the economy of the Bahamas.You may not like the Bahamas’ dependence on foreign industry, but the Bahamas cannot do without it until it generates a broader economic base.Your statements seem designed to elicit anti-foreigner responses.What does it say about a country who shows such little respect for the foreigners legitimately living there?“If you want my vote don’t come waving flags or t-shirts or offering promises of more jobs laying cement, gathering laundry or taking orders for rich white people from abroad.”Are you saying it would be ok if they were rich black people from abroad?I do not think you intended to be so disrespectful to those white foreigners living in the Bahamas, but it is significant that, whilst addressing your agenda of quality of jobs provided by the government, you are comfortable using derogative phrases like this.This document does not match your usual quality of work in my opinion. I think it is significant that you published it on MLK day in the USA and its style is derivative of the ‘I have a dream’ speech.I invite you to defend your words and demonstrate the error of my interpretation.I moved to the Bahamas because it is a country that still values family, community and humanity. As you correctly state, it is a country full of people with talent and creativity. I love the Bahamas and the people of the Bahamas and I believe I make a positive contribution to this country, so I find it hurtful to hear ‘getting rid of the foreigners’ as an election platform.

 

A Voter's Manifesto

With elections around the corner and three political parties, none of which appear to have formulated, much less articulated, any new or credible plan for Bahamian development or growth in twenty-first century (and no, planning to beg more rich people for more money to buy up more of our precious archipelago does not count), I think it's time for the average Bahamian, the voter, to exercise her democratic right and put down in pixels what will or will not get her vote.I am a Bahamian who has never been represented by any party that has held power in The Bahamas to date. I am a woman, middle class, neither black nor white, a cultural worker and intellectual, a citizen and a voter, an ordinary Bahamian who does not campaign, carry a voters' card, attend rallies, or otherwise show her face during the silly season that surrounds politics.I pay my taxes in every way they are presented to me. I have never sat in a politician's office to beg for anything when doing so was not part of my job as a civil servant. I have been eligible to vote in the past 6 general elections but in that time I have only once been visited by a prospective MP, who believed that he was making a social call on old friends, my parents. I have never,  in my civilian position, called any sitting politician for a job, for a handout, for a favour, for any sort of help. I do not work in the tourism industry, real estate, the construction industry, or any other other area that figures in political discussions of "jobs" and "economics" or anything else.I am one of thousands of productive, independent, patriotic Bahamians who make this country run on a daily basis. I took the opportunities offered to my by the first independent government of The Bahamas and went off and earned a college degree. I came home because I wanted to serve and build my country. To date, my country has not put in place anything to serve and build me; to every politician who has served in parliament in the time I have been voting, people like me have been invisible. In our democracy, we do not count.And so: a voter's manifesto.

I believe:
  • that Bahamians are as intelligent, as resourceful, as industrious, as talented and as deserving as any other group of people on the planet;
  • that Bahamian innovation, creativity and adaptability carved this nation out of these scattered rocks in the sea, and that that innovation, creativity and adaptability will make flourish in the twenty-first century;
  • that Bahamians are full human beings, with needs that go beyond the merely material;
  • that The Bahamas is as important as any other nation in the world, and should be treated as such;
  • that our human capital -- the ingenuity, intelligence, talent and independent spirit of the Bahamian people -- is the most important resource that our nation has.
I do not believe:
  • that Bahamians need help, time, or training to deepen and strengthen the democratic project;
  • that Bahamians need help, time, or training to address those problems that our country is struggling with now;
  • that Bahamians need help, time, or training to make our country better.
And so:
  • I, the voter, do not care what colour T-shirt you offer me or what three letters you cast before my face.
  • I believe in democracy.
  • I do not care nearly as much about the history of your particular party (or of your opponents) as you think I do.
  • I do not care about how good (or bad) you look in a suit, how well you speak off the cuff, or whether your leader is God incarnate or the Devil himself.
  • I care about this country we all share.
  • I care what you and your party are planning The Bahamas will look like tomorrow.
  • I want to know the details.
  • I believe that it is the right of a people to elect a government who will represent them and not the foreign interests who come offering the latest wads of cash or promises grander than the grandest Prime Minister's.
  • I believe that is the obligation of a government to seek out and hear the needs of the people whom it represents.  All the people, not just the vocal few at the bottom who have depended thus far on their crippledness to coerce their representatives into enact ill-thought and hurried acts of bribery-in-return-for-votes, or the fatcats at the top who enact coercive acts of bribery of their own.
  • I believe in governments who represent and serve the people who vote for them, not the people who pay them, or bully them, or frighten them.
  • I believe in equality. That is not to say that I believe that all people are universally idiots, or that we must make all decisions according to the lowest possible common denominator. Rather, it is to say that I believe that all citizens—and, indeed, in a truly civilized nation, all people within our borders—should be equal under our laws and treated as such. No better, and no worse.
  • I believe that our ideals should be more important than individual exceptions.
  • I believe that a nation should be founded on ideals. Tell me yours.

If you want my vote:

  • Don't come waving flags or t-shirts or offering promises of more jobs laying cement, gathering laundry or taking orders for rich white people from abroad.
  • Don't come not debating policy.
  • Don't come bad-talking the other politicians around you.
  • Don't come not knowing basic things about this country, about governance, about policy, or the world of the twenty-first century.
  • Don't come expecting my political philosophy to do the trick and make me vote for you party because it happens to be the next best thing to the ideals I hold.
  • Don't come expecting your track record to move me.
  • Don't come expecting my colour, my family name, my friends, my profession, or any other attribute to influence the way I vote.
  • Don't come trusting in your personal political arrogance and my continued political passive stupidity.
  • Come talking to me about the Bahamas you will create the day after Election Day, and come telling me in detail how we are going to create it together.

It had better be a different Bahamas from the one I live in today.•••More links:A Reader Responds to the Voter's ManifestoAnswering the challenge: a consideration of patriotism, democracy and voting - Part IOn the mis-education of the Bahamian citizen

Towards A Voters' Manifesto

It's 2012 and the silly season is officially upon us. Bloggers and tabloids and Facebook commentators have begun their discussions and predictions. To quote Pat Rahming (and I'll quote him again before this post is over), everybody catchin politics like germ.It's a rare situation this election. For the first time in 35 years, it's a proper three-way race; in almost all of the 38 new constituencies, voters will have the option to choose candidates from one of three parties.Predictably, and unfortunately so, the discussion is progressing the way football hooligans support their favourite teams. Most of the loudest voices have painted themselves with the war-hues of their favourites, so that the air has taken on the quality of a rastafarian flag or (to employ the more common metaphor) a stoplight; the political parties (I am tempted to call them teams) adorn themselves in the party colours of red, gold and green.Equally predictably, the squabbling is as shallow and as thought-free as that paint. In almost no quarter does one hear discussions of the issues that affect us all, regardless of party -- of the economic future of the country, of ways in which we hope to function as citizens, of the kinds of fundamental changes that are necessary for the continued process of nationhood -- of questions of how to expand and deepen the democratic project, or how, in this small country of 350,000 people, to find solutions to the problems that plague us.I've been thinking for a long time now that what we need are not more political parties with platforms, plans and promises as fragile and transparent as cheap glass. No. What we need is a voters' manifesto -- a code by which we, the voters, live and move and cast our votes. So I've been thinking about what I want from a country and from a representative, and working back from there. Watch this space -- as I develop it, I'll post it. Maybe you'll share my perspective. If so, let's work for our own small change whenever the election is called!

Larry Smith on The Alternate Reality of Bahamian Squatter Settlements

This is an issue that needs research, reflection, and discussion, not knee-jerking. Larry Smith starts the ball rolling at Bahama Pundit.

... the deeper we delve into the so-called 'Haitian problem', the more we come face to face with ourselves. The squatter settlements that give rise to so much public angst are a clear example of the alternate reality that many Bahamians live in, and we are not the only ones grappling with these issues....The reality is that squatters include indigenous Bahamians, Haitian-Bahamians, immigrants with work permits and illegal immigrants. But these one-dimensional labels merely mask the complexity of the problem, as the following three examples illustrate.A 2003 news report on squatters focused on a young man who, although born here, was not a Bahamian because his parents are Haitians. He had never been to Haiti, and though he had applied three times for Bahamian citizenship and spent about $4,500 on paperwork and lawyers, he had nothing to show for his efforts.A friend of mine knows of a "true-blood Bahamian" who works as a messenger and had a daughter with a Haitian woman. "The daughter was educated here and is hardworking, but has no status. She is confined to the fringes of society because her father can't be bothered to help her get regularized."Then there is the Haitian who has worked here for years and become a permanent resident. "He has several children," my friend told me. "One son is here on a work permit, a second son went to R M Bailey and appears to be a Bahamian, and a third son just arrived from Haiti and can't speak English. The second son is intelligent and well-educated, but has no status and is very angry about it."These examples put a human face on the problem, and we can multiply them many times throughout our society. The root question is, how do we deal with them? One answer is to deport immigrant children who are born and raised here. Another is to regularize them to become productive members of our society.The other key point to bear in mind is that squatting is often the only option for low-income people with no collateral or savings who subsist on temporary jobs. They can't afford the cost of land or housing, so they are forced to rely on irregular arrangements facilitated by Bahamians.Squatter settlements are the inevitable result.via The Alternate Reality of Bahamian Squatter Settlements - Bahama Pundit.

On Emancipation Day

Wanted to post something all day yesterday but was working to finish one of the two reviews and so I didn't. (I did finish the review though!)This is the beginning of what I wrote:Today is Emancipation Day. It's the last public holiday for the summer, but that's not really the point of the day. On August 1, 1834, slavery in the British Empire came to an end. (The conditions that attached to slavery didn't end then, but that's another story). I'm not entirely sure that we truly understand the significance of the day, but that's also another discussion. This year, in 2011, neighbourhoods, communities and families are planting trees.It's a first step. But for emancipation really to have been achieved, we need to emancipate our minds from a number of things. The first of these is the idea that many of us have—that far too many of our "leaders" appear to promote—that we Bahamians cannot do anything without outside help. That we cannot trust the man sitting next to us, or the woman in the next room, but that we can trust the stranger coming in from overseas. That we ourselves do not need to prove ourselves trustworthy because, well, Bahamians don't know any better anyway.For true emancipation, we need to believe in something bigger than ourselves, and something less scam-distorted than the "god" we hear so much about. (Believing in God is all well and good, but if it's just to make sure we get material reward in this lifetime, then it's not God we're really believing in at all). Something like truth, or honour, or service, or community. Something that makes the enslavement of our ancestors and their subsequent freedom worth all the suffering they endured. Something that would make them proud to have survived what they did on our behalf.So plant trees—and water them. What was begun yesterday must continue for the rest of the year, even the rest of our lives. But we need to understand that this is only a beginning, and a symbolic one at that.

Bahamas Caves in National Geographic

Dis my Bahamaland. I tell you dat.

Offshore flooded caves, so-called ocean blue holes, are extensions of the sea, subject to the same heavy tides and host to many of the same species found in the surrounding waters. Inland blue holes, however, are unlike any other environment on Earth, thanks largely to their geology and water chemistry. In these flooded caves, such as Stargate on Andros Island, the reduced tidal flow results in a sharp stratification of water chemistry. A thin lens of fresh water—supplied by rainfall—lies atop a denser layer of salt water. The freshwater lens acts as a lid, isolating the salt water from atmospheric oxygen and inhibiting bacteria from causing organic matter to decay.

Until now, only a handful of scientists have ventured into blue holes, but in the summer and fall of 2009, a multidisciplinary cave-diving and scientific team spent two months studying them on Andros, Abaco, and five other Bahamian islands. Funded by the National Geographic Society in collaboration with the National Museum of the Bahamas, headed by Keith Tinker, the Bahamas Blue Hole Expedition was conceived by Kenny Broad, a veteran cave explorer and an anthropologist at the University of Miami. Under Broad's wisecracking, driven leadership, with Brian Kakuk as dive safety officer and preeminent cave explorer Wes Skiles shooting film and stills, team members made around 150 dives in dozens of blue holes. They gathered data that promise to deepen our understanding of everything from geology and water chemistry to biology, paleontology, archaeology, and even astrobiology—the study of life in the universe.

Read more here:  Bahamas Caves - National Geographic Magazine.

Kudos to Dr Tinker, Michael Pateman, and all the others at the National Museum, my former colleagues. Hats off. Keep up the good work.

Womanish Words: Teach the Children Well

Hear, hear, Lynn.

It upsets me when I hear the little children I know and love speaking in the the racist/religious/hateful language of the local Bahamian press/the moneyed elite/the generally ignorant. There are probably more than a million orphan children struggling to get through the day today in Haiti. It is natural for children to want to help. That natural inclination in our children is at risk. It is hard to hear a child you love speaking about Haiti with no compassion, no natural wanting to help. We Bahamians who enjoy wealth and privilege (and that means anyone not in Port au Prince right now with time and ways enough to read this blog) must wake up and face the fact that we were mis-educated when it comes to Haiti, stop defending the ignorance and selfishness and get on with doing some reading, some learning, some changing and transforming, and some GIVING. Because our innocent children are watching. Teach the children well.via Womanish Words: Teach the Children Well.

10 to Watch in 2010, 01/10 | The Independent

Kareem Mortimer listed as one of the "ten filmmakers to watch in 2010" put out by the Independent Newspaper, UK:

DAY TWO of TEN - KAREEM MORTIMERBahamian filmmaker Kareem Mortimer shakes up his homeland's homophobia with Children of God, which debuted last month. Read what his mentor, Steven Beer, had to say about Mortimer's savvy handling of actors and a limited budget, only on Facebook.via 10 to Watch in 2010, 01/10 | The Independent.

Read more. And congrats to Kareem!!

Differing Further

I only began to touch on the reasons for my not agreeing entirely with Ward on his assessment of the theatre industry here in The Bahamas. To recap: his take on things proposed that the surest way for any writer to make a living at writing creatively in our country is to do it for theatre. He offers these arguments in his defence:

  • Up front costs for the producer-writer are less than production costs of a feature film.
  • Audiences for popular shows are immediate and probably larger at one time than audiences for films.
  • Selling out shows - playing to packed houses - will give you the kindof return on investment that is needed to maintain viability.

and

  • Formulaic writing will ensure the returns for the playwright's investment.

(Ward, correct me if I'm offbase here -- this post has been some time in coming and I may have forgotten details, but it seems to me that these are the basic premises you put forward.)My problem in jumping on his bandwagon regarding the rewards adhering to writing for the stage in The Bahamas involve most particularly the fact that theatre (in all its forms -- dance, opera, and drama) cannot take place on its own. Of all the arts, it is the most collaborative. Oh, sure, you can say that film is collaborative too, but it is quite possible for an individual to make films; BIFF is full of them, documentaries that rely on a single camera, a single person, and a catchy subject. The fact that film is a medium that records and plays back (and is therefore infintely portable, theoretically, and therefore able to generate revenue from many markets, not just one) is one of the most liberating aspects about it; and if one wants to make a living as a documentary filmmaker, in The Bahamas or anywhere, I would argue one can do so. In fact, the more exotic the topic the better in most documentaries, so perhaps The Bahamas provides the perfect palette for the filmmaker. We're as exotic as they come, our aspirations notwithstanding.But theatre? Can that exist without collaboration? I'd say not. At the very very least, the artist needs an audience. Usually the artist also needs a whole heap of other supporters as well: technicians to handle light and sound, people to assist backstage, people to sell and market the show, and so on. It is indeed possible for a multi-talented individual playwright to do all of that himself. But easy? No. And not even preferable. The energy required to perform to the audience's satisfaction is far better concentrated on performance, not on hustling and promotion and production. Michael Pintard's success has, ironically, led to his retirement from the stage; he works behind the scenes, while he hires people to deliver his words. Terez Davis, on the other hand, has a business partner who helps her to manage the publicity and dull stuff to allow her to slip into the character of Daisy and remain in front of the audience.So the centrality of collaboration that lies at the heart of theatre, which gives theatre its peculiar power, is also what makes it oddly less able to sustain a long-term living for its practitioners. The revenue might be enviable, and come in all at once. But nobody seems to consider the overheads that are incurred -- or that they have to be spent before the revenue comes in, on faith as it were. One might say that this is not so different from film, and one would be right. But the immediacy of theatre also lends it an urgency that film does not share. Film records and retains, and its preparation can be done in stages over long periods of time. But theatre? The alchemy that drives performance -- especially performance of the part-time community variety -- has an expiry date. When people do not have the luxury of full-time engagement with the stage, their energy comes from a number of sources -- the freshness of the material, the chemistry of the cast, the response of the audience. It's possible, when people are fitting their performances around their everyday lives, for a show to peak and to taper off. Where there is no extensive community of ongoing classes, courses and workshops and no time to engage in them if they do exist, part-time performers find it more difficult to keep things new and exciting, and shows can go stale over time. And so in the kind of theatre that exists in The Bahamas, productions have an optimal rate of investment and return. And as live performance is variable, and unpredictable, that rate will vary over time.In order to make money off your writing, Ward argues, you need to find a formula and stick to it. In order for your writing to be viable, to sustain you, the formula will suffice. This formula will find a ready audience, will allow for a stability of expenditure and revenue that, once it's been fine-tuned and located in fairly predictable spaces (like James Catalyn and Friends' relation to the Dundas), will work. And he's right, as far as it goes. My objection comes from the idea of sustainability. The problem with formulae is that they are boring, especially in live theatre. They can work fine day in day out on apparently "free" media like television, because there's no effort involved in consuming them; they can also work fine in film, because most blockbuster films have the money and clout behind them to create a demand among audiences who might not otherwise be interested in them. But in live theatre? Not so much. I would argue that the formulae that he extols would begin to pale, to taper off, if they had to run day after day after day, if they were mounted on a monthly basis, if they were produced in the kind of time frame that would allow for real sustainability. Even Pintard's shows have expiry dates. Even Summer Madness has a season -- the end (and in good years the beginning) of Summer.No. If we're looking for formulae, I would argue that the true measure of sustainability in contemporary Bahamian theatre lies elsewhere: in Thoughtkatcher's Da Spot, which sustains audiences for weekly performances over two or three months (again, a season), perhaps precisely because it's improv, because of its unpredictability. There is a formula, true, but it's not the writer's formula. It's the performer's, and audiences go back because they never know what will happen next.Or perhaps the other formula that was truly viable and which could be maintained over time was the formula practised by the Dundas Repertory Season between 1981 and 1999, and which allowed for the production not only of formulaic comedy shows but for plays, musicals, new shows and old. That season ran from January to May, and ran a rotation of shows, a different one every month, during that time. Some shows made money, and some shows lost, but for 17 of its 19 years the season never made a loss. The revenue from the season sustained the Dundas and paid directors and technicians (though not actors or backstage crew). And unlike the formula proposed by Ward, the revenue didn't rely on meeting the audience's demand. Rather, it depended (like Hollywood and other truly successful art forms) on having the audience discover a demand for things it never knew it liked before, and thus laying the foundation for future sustainability -- the possibility for growth.So what am I saying? Perhaps I'm agreeing now with Ward -- that theatre allows the Bahamian writer her best chance for making a living. Well, I don't know about that. The whole secret of the Season's success was that it served up a variety of shows for a wide range of audience tastes, and therefore didn't depend on a single writer. But it also spawned a whole crop of new writers as well -- who didn't necessarily make a living off their plays, but who were nevertheless able to write what they were called to write without tailoring it overmuch for an "audience" that they knew only imperfectly. But I am conceding that it may be possible to sustain your living by writing for theatre -- but only if you recognize the need for collaboration, understand that theatre cannot happen with one person alone, and -- perhaps most important -- have the ability to access performance spaces that allow for viability to happen, that are not so prohibitive in their overhead that all one's revenue goes into paying the rent.

Begging to differ

with Ward again (c'mon, what did you expect? I mean, really.) Not that he's totally off base. He's right, as usual, but only partly so.

Here's how he begins his fourth post on the viability of Bahamian art:

If you want to be a professional creative writer in the Bahamas you are going to have to be some kind of playwright. It really is that simple.

Poetry is currently back in fashion, but in its raw form, on the page, or performed at small events, open-mike style, it will not make you any money. The only way that poetry can make you money in the Bahamas is if you package it as a play.

--Ward Minnis, Hollywood, Michael Pintardand the Viability of Bahamian ArtPart 4: Laughter is the best medicine…

K, so let me just say that I don't quibble with this statement. There is some real truth to it -- especially if you're not looking to make a whole lot of money.

Because it's harder than Ward makes it seem. Even Michael Pintard doesn't hit home runs all the time, and supplements his income as a writer by doing other things -- in short, by hustling to make opportunities for himself every day of his life. Terez Davis' Daisy character may earn her money, but surely there's a reason for why one writes in the first place -- and if one is locked into formulaic theatre for the rest of one's life, then there's not a whole lot of point. Better to do it as a hobby.

I'm still convinced that it's easier to make a living off films in The Bahamas than off theatre. The main reason is that theatre requires you to work with other people, while film does not. And the up-front overhead for theatre is substntial.

But more on that later, when I have more time on my hands. For now, go read Ward's post, and then go think about your own position for yourselves.

Ward Follows Up

Following up on the last article, Ward Minnis in his series of meditations on the viability of making a living off of art in The Bahamas writes to illustrate his position. First, he clarifies the sticky point of "viability":

...when I ask is it ‘viable’? I am not asking ‘is it possible?’ Because, of course it’s possible. What I am really asking is this: if this is what you love, can you live off of it?

And then, clever man, he makes reference to the Day of Absence observations in Nassau:

Bahamians who want to exercise their talents in the cultural industries are faced with the choice of pursuing their callings as hobbies at home, or of leaving home to make a living by their gifts elsewhere. And we are all the poorer for it.

If you haven't done so yet, subscribe to Ward's feed, because what he's doing is provocative but important. What he's developing in this series is a blueprint to change the state of affairs for artists in this country. The lament of those of us who established the Day of Absence -- the whole purpose of establishing that day of observance (which will be coming again in February 2010, have no fear) is that although it is indeed possible to create viable economic activity in the arts in our Bahamaland, everything in the society is ranged against it.

This is being written against the backdrop of TaDa's ArtOvation (internet-streamed, thanks to Star 105.9), and she's talking with guests about possibilities, viabilities, and so on.

In order for this viability really to exist, though, the society as a whole has to buy into the idea of supporting Bahamian culture with more than their lips, but also with their pockets. We are avid consumers of culture -- but we prefer other people's. Last semester students at COB conducted an on-campus survey that indicated that young Bahamian college students (who spend, on average, around $50 a week), are more willing to pay money for parties or live concerts (nationality of the musicians not specified) than they are to pay money to see Junkanoo, our premier festival, and the one which, if supported, could actually generate real employment. Perhaps that's pushing the issue a little too far, or in a direction which has its own built-in controversy, but perhaps not. What I'm hoping to show is that we have the disposable income as Bahamians to support far more artistic activity than we do; but it all depends on the choices we make as consumers.

So once again, I want to stretch the debate. The reason I disagreed so strenuously with the idea that we can't have a viable film industry here is that film is a potted medium. Like the visual arts, it can be separated from its creation and have a life well beyond its making. It doesn't all have to be assembled in one place and one time.

For instance. One can be an animator and do all one's work at home, alone, and not have to pay anybody else but oneself, and make a living; one can be a cinematographer or a set builder or a location manager and make a living (both off local films and off those foreign producers who shoot in The Bahamas on location). One can make art films and get grants from international agencies and inject them into the film festival circuit and make a living; or one can be a documentary filmmaker and make a very good living indeed, with only oneself and one's camera, one can make filmmaking viable.

What's a whole lot harder is to provide enough work for other people to give up their day jobs and enter the film industry. Neither film nor theatre has generated enough revenue yet in The Bahamas to enable actors, for instance, or front-of-house personnel, or box office personnel, or playwrights, to make a living off the performing arts. Unlike musicians, filmmakers and others, actors, playwrights and others must work in other jobs for a living. Unless you are willing and/or able to diversify, to become a Michael Pintard (who is a public speaker, an actor, a playwright, a poet, a producer, a landlord and a consultant), viability is difficult. Part of the issue, of course, is the question of payment. It's just possible for a filmmaker to make enough money to keep herself alive; but the development of these industries depends on helping to keep other people alive as well, and that's where the difficulty comes in.

So though I'm going to wait till Ward's finished and moved on to theatre (which he believes is a viable industry) before I continue this argument. But I'm going to encourage you guys to be like me -- keep your eyes peeled and check out Ward's blog for updates!

Dr Keva Bethel's Speech at the Bahamas Business Outlook Seminar

On Thursday past, my mother, Keva Bethel Ph.D., had the opportunity to address the luncheon guests at the Bahamas Business Outlook Seminar.From all reports, the reception to the speech was overwhelming.Two people asked me whether I could get a copy of it for wider circulation. Well, I spoke to Mummy about it, and she sent it on over. I told her I'd like to post it here, and she didn't have any objections, so here you go:

Dr. Keva Bethel before speaking at the SeminarA VISION FOR THE BAHAMAS OF THE FUTURE

by Keva Bethel, Ph.D.An address delivered at the Bahamas Business Outlook 2009,Wyndham Nassau Resort, Cable Beach, New ProvidenceThursday, January 15, 2009I must first thank Mrs. Albury for having invited me to address you. She said that she wanted a "heart" piece, outlining my vision for the future of The Bahamas. Initially I was reluctant to accept, because I knew from experience that speaking to a lunchtime audience during a conference such as this was a really tough gig: everyone is either hungry or engrossed in eating, and far more interested in chatting with one another than in listening to yet another speaker spout ideas. I agreed, however, because there are indeed things that have lain heavy on my heart for some time and this is an opportunity to get them off my chest and to articulate them publicly. I promise to try to keep this as brief as I can, though, and will simply share a few thoughts about The Bahamas I should like to see in the future, not only from my perspective as an educator, but even more so from the perspective of a grandmother concerned about the kind of country in which my now 18 month-old grandson will grow up. Dr Keva Bethel delivering the speech Let me plunge right in by saying, first, that I pray that Jaxon Elijah will grow up in a country that will finally have been able to come to a truly national consensus about the kind of society we want to be and the kind of role we wish our nation to play in the 21st century world context. The fallout from present-day global economic challenges has revealed only too starkly the vulnerability of our status quo, and while our current difficulties clearly require urgent, short-term responses, this may also be an appropriate moment for us to come together more deliberately as a people to craft a longer-term, more indigenously-based, collaborative, non-partisan, national blueprint for our future.In my view, to be defensible such a blueprint should take intentionally into account, and reflect unequivocally, genuine respect for the special features of the natural environments of our individual islands and our commitment to their protection, conservation and appropriate use. It should also demonstrate clearly the value we place upon the historical and cultural heritage of the inhabitants of our islands and our determination to build upon and strengthen these. It seems to me that such considerations would provide a more rational basis for sustainable development initiatives that would be compatible with those realities, and for whose realisation we might, with greater clarity of purpose, seek the assistance of local or foreign investors sympathetic to our goals. (It is fitting that I mention here that for a number of years, a group of concerned individuals has been engaged in just such a visioning exercise, and that this process continues through a project supported by Civil Society Bahamas entitled Imagine! Bahamas. The seminal work already done and that which is ongoing could serve as a valuable springboard for a more widespread defining process for the country).Central to ensuring the kind of future I envisage will be the collective commitment and positive participation of the people of The Bahamas. We must find ways to temper the present rampant materialism in our midst that demands immediate personal gratification, and to engage our people more fully in working for the long-term well being of society as a whole. I should, moreover, like to see a society in which my grandson and all others can be comfortable in their own skins (of whatever shade those might be) and never have to feel apologetic or defensive about any aspect of their heritage. For we shall be less narrowly prescriptive in our definition of who ought legitimately to bear the responsibility of being a "true-true" Bahamian and of contributing valuably to its development. In sum, we shall have become a society that truly values the diversity of its people, that actively promotes tolerance and understanding and that eschews the tendency, too often evident at present, to express distrust and in some cases active dislike of those we perceive to be different in some way from ourselves. These qualities will only result, I feel, if we become a society that roots our people firmly in a more complete knowledge and appreciation of all aspects of our history and culture, so that we may develop a deeper and more genuine sense of who we all are in our wonderful variety.In the future Bahamas I envision (and hope to live to see) we shall have abandoned the current attitudes of dependency and entitlement that seem so deeply ingrained in us as a people and that, to my mind, are so demeaning to and destructive of our national character. I dare to hope for a Bahamas, rather, in which the various social entities -family, school, church, government, private sector and civil society as a whole - will work together in consistent, mutually supportive ways, to develop men and women who have the will and the confidence to take greater responsibility for themselves and their actions and who will draw upon their individual abilities for the purpose.As an important ingredient in such a shift of attitude, we shall have to make a deliberate effort to heal the bitter political, religious, racial and other forms of division that continue to fracture our nation in either overt or subtle ways. If we are not only to survive but also to thrive as a reasonable society in which to live, we shall have to abandon the all too easy temptation either to find someone else to blame for our difficulties or to seek to earn brownie points for ourselves by suggesting that we might do things better. And, ladies and gentlemen, here I am not referring only to tendencies observed in the political arena: if we are honest we must confess that we are all of us guilty of such impulses.We are a small country, with what a colleague of mine has dubbed "countable people." Surely it should not be beyond us, if we sincerely desire it, to come together to address effectively the critical large issues that affect us all. For this to happen, however, we shall all need to open up our thinking much more, and be prepared to jettison some of our preconceived ideas about who should fix what and how. (The alarming crime rate in our country is but one example).  We shall have to recognise that few tough problems are susceptible of simple, one-dimensional solutions. We must be prepared to face more honestly the things we need to change and to listen to voices that speak sense - no matter how unexpected their source. Particularly, I would suggest, we shall need to listen more attentively to the real messages so many of our young people are giving us, both with their words and, even more eloquently, with their actions. One important message that comes through to me is that our traditional social institutions (and I use this term in the broadest of senses) are failing to reach them in meaningful ways. The cynicism and alienation reflected in the often self-destructive behaviour of so many of our young people  (and particularly our young men) are generally incomprehensible to those of us who are older for, on the surface, our youth seem to have so many more opportunities to flourish than were available in the past, opportunities that they fail to embrace - or so we think. But do they really?We know that too many of our children and young people are the unplanned, perhaps unwanted, by-products of the casual sexual encounters of mothers and fathers who are often too young to be effective parents. In some cases children seem to be viewed either as trophies affirming that their parents are real women or real men, or as tangible means of cementing uncertain relationships. In addition, there are many instances of young women being exploited by older men. Child rearing is frequently subject to unskilled parenting and punctuated by neglect or abuse. Further, there is also the isolation of the many stateless young among us who must undoubtedly feel resentment that they do not really belong anywhere and who are routinely treated as outsiders by their peers. Despite all these factors, we in the wider society expect our young people to follow rules whose purposes they may not have ever been adequately taught or that they fail to understand, and in the observance of which they may have had all too few examples in their immediate environment or sometimes even in the wider community. Society also expects them to succeed in an educational system that, despite all best efforts, often seems irrelevant to the real needs or interests they bring to the school.  Ours is a society, moreover, that only too readily confirms what is likely to be their already low self-esteem by branding them as failures when they do not measure up to expectations. Happily, however, there are enough others who are genuinely able to achieve success to make it plausible to hope that the gloomier picture can be reversed.I again take as a point of reference my observation of my own grandson.  He is a happy, friendly little boy, full of curiosity and a sense of adventure. Most relevant to this discussion, however, is the fact that while some of these qualities may come from his own personality, much of the confidence he displays arises not only from his obvious trust that he is loved unconditionally, but also from the fact that he is guided at each stage of his development by parents who invest time, intelligence and informed practice in the process.  This kind of attention is what I should like all of our children to be able to receive.Now, I am not so naïve as to think we can realistically expect to prescribe a universal nuclear family structure for all of our people. What we do need to ensure, however, is that all of our people understand that parenthood is a sacred trust that ought not to be taken lightly. As a society, it seems to me, we must bend our minds and efforts to a deliberate, multi-faceted approach to family building. I personally believe, moreover, that in order to accomplish this we shall, collectively, need to begin by committing to a vigorous, comprehensive national programme to encourage responsible family planning, drawing upon the many valuable initiatives undertaken in the past and those continuing in various forms at present. Such a programme will need also, however, to commit communities to accept more fully the responsibility of assisting parents (especially young ones) in their child-rearing experience, by providing as necessary the kinds of safety nets and guidance that children will need in order to thrive. [I should interject that single parents are nothing new in our society, but in the past we had a stronger extended family structure that provided a cushion for their offspring. Nowadays, grandmothers may themselves be too young to be willing to take on such responsibility. [In one of my projects a few years ago I encountered a great-grandmother who was only 39 years old: she had had a child at thirteen, who had had a child at thirteen, who also had had a child at thirteen. If we now have to face generation cycles of thirteen years, we are in serious trouble].The actions I propose will only be possible, though, if all social partners come to practical agreement about their importance and viability. Clear consensus on the provision of effective, comprehensive education (within and outside of the school system) regarding responsible sexual behaviour, supported by appropriate modelling of such behaviour by adults, will not only be critical to help to prevent young girls from becoming mothers at too early an age, but also to protect them from contracting damaging sexually transmitted infections or the potentially life-threatening infection of HIV and AIDS.Clearly, education is a key element in this as in all social development and here I am first referring to education in its broadest sense - the process that occurs in all settings from the time we are born. For it is important that we as a community recognise that our words, and even more tellingly our actions, teach our young what we really value. It is trite but none the less true to say that children learn what they live, and they very quickly discern the difference between what we demand of them in our pronouncements and what we ourselves display in our own behaviour.As the system designed and mandated to accept major responsibility for the formal instruction of the young, however, our schools and other educational institutions have particular challenges to meet in this twenty-first century world which is and will continue to be so different from that for which most of our current approaches were designed. The formal educational systems I would wish to see in the future, therefore, will be ones that will have genuinely continued their quest to transform themselves to meet these new demands. Such transformation will have begun with an honest examination of the purpose of formal education for, as heretical as this may sound in this particular setting, this can no longer be viewed primarily as being that of providing students with skills for the workforce, as important an aim as this will continue to be. More fundamentally, I believe, the formal educational experience will need to aim above all to assist individuals to develop their particular gifts in ways that will enable them to live rewarding and fulfilling lives as law-abiding, functioning members of society. Curricula, institutional arrangements and methodological approaches will, moreover, reflect an understanding that the roles of the various actors in the process of formal education have evolved considerably from those of previous eras. Educational practice will be more deliberately informed by the compelling array of research findings on the multiple forms of intelligence that students bring to the school enterprise and on the ways in which the brain actually learns. The current tendency to reflect a hierarchy of value among individuals' differing abilities and that relegates technical, practical or artistic pursuits to places of lesser importance than those enjoyed by academic subjects will no longer be a feature of the commentary or practice within or outside of the school system.The focus in schools will be even more upon guiding students to develop their ability (1) genuinely to understand their value as individual human beings and to strengthen their capacity to become self-directed, disciplined learners; (2) to think and reason critically and independently, while mastering important skills of language and computation as doorways to wider learning in other disciplines; (3) to access for themselves useful, necessary information and make reasoned judgments about its value and quality; (4) to relate effectively to other people and to resolve conflicts when these arise. Extensive social and nutritional support will be routinely built into the provision of the formal system.  Information technology will be embraced, not merely as an add-on to traditional methodologies, or as the subject of special study, but rather as an integral teaching/learning and management tool. Its potential as a means of enhancing the access to and quality of educational provision to students throughout the archipelago will have been fully recognised and actively exploited.Student learning will be assessed in multi-dimensional ways, that will more authentically measure the degree to which achievement goals have been attained. No longer will standardised examinations be the major yardstick by which student and school accomplishment is judged, as useful as these may be as a quick measure for the purposes of higher education institutions and employers. Teachers and school administrators will be appropriately prepared to meet changing demands, and they will be encouraged to view ongoing professional development as a routine feature of their careers. Parents and the general public will engage more productively with the schools, not only for the purpose of questioning or criticising their efforts, but also to celebrate their successes and to assist in addressing areas of weakness. Particularly important, members of the adult community (especially those in positions of influence) will display a greater commitment to reflecting in their own speech, conduct and professional performance the kinds of standards they expect students to demonstrate.We shall have a University of The Bahamas that will stand as the important source of intellectual leadership in the country and the broad range of its offerings will enable increasing numbers of our people to attain higher levels of academic, professional and continuing education here at home. The research generated at the University will serve to advance knowledge and guide national planning, policy and decision-making.The Bahamas that I should like to see in the future will have succeeded in educating its people more effectively as to the real functions of democratic governance so that members of government themselves may be able to see their responsibilities less as doing things or solving problems for the people of the nation, and more as ensuring the effective provision of necessary public services, and creating environments and opportunities that will challenge and enable members of society to become more productively engaged on their own behalf.Finally, I hope that in the future our actions as a people will demonstrate in more genuine ways our oft-repeated claim of being a Christian nation. Our present tendency to strident manifestations of religious fervour and our complacent, self-satisfied belief that God must surely be a Bahamian are all too often belied by our lack of appreciation and care for His natural or human creation. I hope that as we tout our constitutional commitment to Christian values we shall in fact learn to translate these into more Christ-like behaviour, characterised by compassion, love and genuine concern for those who share with us this very special part of God's creation.Utopian dreams? Perhaps, but let us aim for the stars, even if we only hit a tree!Ladies and gentlemen, you have been very patient with me. Thank you for your attention. Enjoy the rest of this important conference.

A Balanced Moral Framework - Front Porch

Over on Bahama Pundit, where I used to post when I was writing Essays on Life (hiatus almost over), the mind behind Front Porch has written on the need for a more nuanced morality when discussing Bahamian issues. Hear, hear. For those who haven't read it yet, here's a sample:

Genuine insight requires context. Its companions include discernment, nuance, balance, prudence, humility -- and scepticism. It counts as its enemies cynicism, sensationalism and prejudice.
In some quarters there is a knee-jerk conceit about the Bahamas similar to the self-loathing and hackneyed images of the Caribbean by writers such as V. S. Naipaul.It goes something like this. The Bahamas is inalterably corrupt, lacks any kind of moral framework, and may be beyond repair. In its nauseating and inaccurate retelling: it’s worse in the Bahamas, often much worse.A major problem with this storyline is that it is more the stuff of fiction than good journalism. It is like a reality show, filled with exaggeration and drama in order to boost ratings, make money and inflate the egos of the scriptwriters and possibly sell tell-all books based on the reality series.This storyline lacks context. Context requires a broad vision, free of the kind of moral blindness which leads some to dismiss moral failure, and others to see only moral failure.There are many social, moral and other entrenched problems at home. But when you compare us -- or place us within a broader global context -- we are in some areas perhaps a little worse or a little better, and in many areas probably just about the same.

Bahama Pundit: A Balanced Moral Framework

Walcott warns; others walk

Walcott warns : Stabroek NewsRight, well I've been hinting at it for some time now on this blog, but now I think it's time to come out and say it straight.  I've turned in my resignation as Director of Culture for the Bahamas Government.  I had originally intended to leave at the end of this month, as of August 31st, but a series of situations have pushed the actual date back till the end of this calendar year, and turned the resignation into a requested transfer back to the College of The Bahamas.  Courage!People who have heard sometimes ask me why.  (People who know me and have known the tribulations of working as a cultural professional within The Bahamas government don't ask why; they ask when.)Derek Walcott, Caribbean Nobel Laureate for Literature, gives a very good reason why in his speech at the opening of the CARIFESTA Symposia.  Here's what he says:

Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott yesterday implored the region’s governments to resist prostituting themselves to foreign investors, warning that giving into tourism-fuelled gentrification would spell disaster.“The prostitution is a thing we call development,” he said in stinging remarks delivered during an impromptu presentation at the grand opening of the CARIFESTA X Symposia, at the National Convention Centre. He warned: “Don’t let this continue, [because] something serious is going to happen.”

and:

 “It is terrifying, all around there are huge hotels we are going to leave as monuments,” he said, with obvious disgust. “We are not leaving museums or theatres, because the governments say they can’t afford it.”

and:

Walcott took the view that investors should also be encouraged to put money into the development of cultural infrastructure, like museums and theatres. He also challenged regional governments to be more supportive of artists, saying that younger people needed to have access to more scholarships.Walcott, who had once famously  called for the scrapping of the festival, was featured as the Distinguished Guest at the symposium. Nonetheless, he admitted that he still harboured serious reservations about the fate of artists afterward. Indeed, he blamed the regional governments and institutions for keeping artists in what he described as a state of deprivation. “Is this what we are celebrating?” he asked. “You are killing your artists.”

and:

Walcott challenged regional leaders to pursue development of the arts simultaneously. Though he was not optimistic that the idea would be realized, he said it was important for them to adopt a change in attitude. He said there be should be no question of competing needs; that governments should do both.***He also suggested yesterday that the governments consider putting a moratorium on the festival in order to ensure that it is professionally organized and that it features the best people that the region can offer. “You need the best,” he said, before quickly adding, “But it is self deception, because what happens afterwards? What are their futures?"

There you have it.  My dilemma in a nutshell.  On the one hand, there are the people who tell you that the country needs you, that we have come a long way, that we are on the move and things are gonna get easier.  "Why now?" they ask.  The answer is simple, and Walcott has stated it plainly.  Caribbean governments do not invest in their people. Caribbean people do not see any real reflections of themselves.On the other hand -- and this is the reality, while the other is simply the spin -- the bare naked truth is that The Government of The Bahamas (gold, red or green, the party in charge doesn't matter) is no different from the governments of all our neighbours when it comes to cultural investment.  The Nobel Laureate has stated the truth, and there is no getting around it.  The President of Guyana has stated the excuse, and there is no getting around that either.  To remain in the post legitimizes the active underdevelopment of our people that all of our governments have made the central policy of their administrations.  To remain in the post restricts the criticisms that I can make; and to remain in the post compromises, whether we like to admit it or not, the attainment of excellence in all that we do.

Dissent, Power, and Politics

Well, from Jamaica, this is interesting:

PM Golding has invoked the Staff Orders rule that says governmental officials must keep their traps shut when their individual positions conflict with existing gov’t policy. Not an atypical move for him to make. But, it really does and should sweet us when we see cracks in the veneer of retrograde, unsubstantiated policies, that come in the form of truth-telling, even if the labba-mouth will probably lose their jobs.

Gagging Dissent « LONG BENCH

Especially given the exchange that's been occurring on Rick Lowe's BlogBahamas and Larry Smith's Bahama Pundit about the responsibility of civil servants to speak out about the wrongs and the cracks in the society.

Here's the source of Long Bench's commentary.

President of the Jamaica Civil Service Association, Wayne Jones, said the Government's Staff Orders outline a mode of behaviour for public officers, as it relates to their interaction with the public.

Jones told The Gleaner yesterday that Section 4.4 of the order points to how government material or documents should be shared with the media through the permanent secretary, head of department or designated spokespersons.Jones said Harvey would not be able to express a personal view, particularly on topical issues, without the media and other persons in society construing it to be government thinking.He acknowledged that public officials would be faced with situations where they might be asked to express a professional or personal view on a matter.

Come on, people of the Caribbean.  Do or do we not live in democracies? What is the responsibility of those of us employed in governments to our nation?  What is gained by the kinds of restrictions applied to civil servants that are outlined in the documents we inherited from the Brits (who remain subjects, and not citizens, in their own land, by the way)?  Weren't they written when only a small number of people worked for government, and when our lands were colonies anyway and when freedom of speech was not something anyone had at all?  Why are they still being invoked today, when our governments are major (in The Bahamas' case, the largest) employers?  Does this not seem to be at odds with the idea of a democracy?

Nevertheless.  General Orders stands.  Our Rules of Conduct may be found here.  Go read for yourself.