about the London 2012 Olympics thus far…some (not so reverent) thoughts

It’s July 31, and all of Jamaica is waiting on track and field to start, me included!  I can’t help but feel though, that Beijing was as good as it’s gonna get for us.  Look at the USA male gymnasts and swimmers…not living up to expectations are they! The thing is, there are so many extremely hungry competitors just straining at the bit to compete and win. All of this notwithstanding, I remain respectful and in awe of the talent of our athletes.  I sincerely hope that Usain Bolt not only defends his titles, but that he sets some new world records too.  Greedy?  I think so…but hey…Usain is a SUPERSTAR, in terms of his amazing talent (have you ever really looked at him over the last 40m of his race?) and also in terms of his natural ability to interact with people…so darned comfortable in his own skin.

And I absolutely love VCB and Shelly-Ann and ma girl Melaine.  Man…I wish them well.  And as for Asafa…I’m going to say it here: if anyone is to beat Bolt, I would like it to be Asafa.  I would be happy.  I am so nervous though.  In the sprints there is absolutely zero room for error, and the rounds are taxing, and the whole false start thingy….we just have to wait and send love and positive vibrations to our Team over there.  GOOD LUCK, GUYS!

Let me say, I enjoyed the opening ceremony.  It was entertaining and not too long, and reflected what Britain is quite well.  I still say that LA 1984 will remain my favourite opening ceremony.  Who can forget the 84 grand pianos playing in unison? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_B-lgIc2_w  I will admit that the fact that I was watching the opening ceremonies with my family while enjoying pizza and drinking rum could have contributed to my overall enjoyment of the proceedings!  And then came Team Jamaica on to the filed, resplendent in their edgy and colourful uniforms. Awesome!  I suspect that at the next staging of the games, Olympic uniforms will undergo a paradigm shift from the traditional boring and stodgy to something more in the vein of our uniforms, and the parade of the athletes will take on a vibe not unlike a haute couture fashion show!  No problem as far as I am concerned.

I am pissed at the fact that I can’t watch the games on NBC.  It’s great that we can watch the events live.  But I don’t think our local station would lose viewers if we had the option of watching the games on cable that we have already paid for!  I guarantee you that in any event with a Jamaican, Jamaica would turn to CVM.  Simple.  But I want the option to take in NBC’s perspective too, and to relax and enjoy the delayed coverage that they are offering.

On now to the Jamaican athletes who have done well so far.  Samantha Albert (equestrian) remains a puzzle in my mind.  I wonder why she didn’t represent Canada or the UK…methinks she should have been able to do either…anyhows, good effort on her part.  Yes, my enthusiasm is muted, but is so it go.

Alia Atkinson copped a great 4th place in the 100m breaststroke swimming.  She competed like a champion and I wish her all the best in her two remaining events.  She’s strong, and fit and fast with the heart and demeanor of a champion.

In closing, allow me to ask some questions that have come to mind:

1.  If there’s table tennis in the Olympics, why isn’t there netball.  Just saying…
2.  Why can’t the genders compete together in events that don’t require speed or strength?  Take for instance shooting…that requires a steady hand and a good eye.  Methinks the sexes can compete fairly here.
3.  Where are the breasts of the female swimmers?  Is it the swimsuit that has crushed them flat?
4.  I wonder if the condoms that they have distributed in the Olympic village are being used up? I am somewhat intrigued by reports of sexual activity in the village.  As one person in the article I read said: “everyone in the village has a great body!”
5.  What the hell is the Jamaica50 secretariat going to do if Jamaica doesn’t get a gold in the male 100m on Aug 5?  They are planning celebrations around the race…talk about pressure!  It’s never really a good idea to plan around an unknown.  And we still don’t have any guarantee that JA will get a gold in the event.  The damn race lasts for 10 seconds (count them!) and every one of the 8 that will be in the race is a competent athlete to say the least.
6.  Why do all the female beach volley ballers have ponytails?
7.  Why do all the female beach volley ballers NOT get a wedgy?
8.  Why do all the female beach volley ballers look so darned good in a bikini? (can you tell I’m a tad obsessed with the the female beach volley ballers?
9.  Why hasn’t Yohan Blake uttered a word since he’s been in London?

Let the Games continue!

Workbooks? Not a great idea!

As a parent and someone with great interest in education of our Nation’s children, I wish to air my issues with the use of workbooks in the elementary school system.  There are 3 main reasons why I think that this is not the best approach to educating our youngsters.
The first negative in my mind associated with using workbooks is that parents and guardians are unable to pass down books to younger children as was the practice some years ago.  The pages are all marked up, and in order for the upcoming child to benefit from the lessons contained in the text, he has to get a brand new book.  Who benefits from this arrangement? Certainly not the parents, who are put out of pocket every twelve months being forced to buy brand new books instead of having the option to purchase a second hand book or pass down a used book.  Where parents are put under this pressure, it makes it less likely that they can purchase 100% of the book list requirement, thus compromising the overall delivery of information to our young ones.  The ones who stand to lose if the use of workbooks was obliterated are the book publishers and sellers.  But in an environment of scarce resources and an imperative to equip our citizens from the elementary stages in support of giving us a competitive edge, I think that the Ministry of Education should side with parents and children in doing what is best for them rather than the publishers and sellers of books.
The act of writing aids in committing information to memory.  Where children are asked to merely fill in blanks, I believe the learning process is being short-circuited, to their ultimate disadvantage. 
And lastly, penmanship, sentence construction and the working of math problems by laying out steps in enough space to accommodate it (versus being constrained by the miniscule space that the workbook designers think is sufficient) are all compromised by forcing these young learners to fit their answers into a prescribed slot with as few words as possible.
I’d like to throw out a challenge to our schools:  if the Ministry of Education will not reduce the numbers of  workbooks as part  of the recommended book lists for our schools, then schools can mandate that all working out and answers be done by children in exercise books, with no writing whatsoever to be done in the workbooks.  This will allow second hand books to be sold and passed on easing the burden on caregivers and allowing the children to optimize their learning process.  Furthermore, in the event that the publishers try to outsmart schools and parents  by issuing revisions every year if such an arrangement was indeed instituted by our schools, the Ministry could institute a policy of limiting revised editions to once every three years.
Let me be clear, I am not attempting to pit parents and schools against our book industry.  But in difficult times, difficult decisions have to be made.  I believe that giving the upper hand to parents and children will benefit the Nation more than giving the upper hand to book publishers and sellers.
The challenge is now yours, Schools and Ministry of Education.

Fun times with the kids on a budget

This week, a friend asked me how I do all the stuff that I do with the kids.   “You must have a huge budget, Kelly!” he remarked.  The answer is no.  I do not have a huge budget.  But when you have kids and you work too, it is critical to do stuff together where everyone (and that includes you!) can relax.  You get to de-stress and you build memories too.  It is possible here in Jam Down with a little planning.  So this post is dedicated to EY.  May you have fun times with your girls and build memories for a life-time.

MY MUST HAVES FOR A FUN TIME

1.  Working vehicle
2.  Tank full of gas
3.  Igloo

You see, with all of the above in place, there are so many options open to you.  Here are some of my favourites:

1.  BEACH TRIPS:

Ocho Rios Public Beach, Frenchman’s Cove (Portland), Doctors Cave (Montego Bay), Negril, Ft. Clarence.  Any of the above can be done in a single day. For Negril and Mobay, leave home early (think 6am).  Buy patties en route for breakfast or make sandwiches from the night before.  Pack your own snacks and fruit that you bought in the grocery, and pack water and juices, soda and rum for Mummy.  Admission to these beaches ranges from 150.00 per person to 400.00.  Now many of these beaches don’t allow you to bring your own food.  Some of the food options on the beaches are really overpriced in my opinion.  So for those beaches with the expensive options, I still carry my snacks and frozen bottles in my beach bag, and promise the kids to stop somewhere more affordable for food on the way back. This adds another dimension to the road trip.  Kids are usually more than satisfied with the low budget options available like BK and KFC, and I also use the opportunity to expose them to various jerk spots and “decentish” cook shops where you can get get good Jamaican food for under 500.00 (there are great places with parking along the Northcoast highway like that spot opposite Green Grotto Caves, Lyming, jerk in Blueberry Hill, St. Mary, Spur Tree curry goat.  On every road trip I look out for potential stop-offs and plan for them on my next trip.

2. THE ZOO IN KINGSTON:

I think it is now 500.00 for adults and 200.00 for kids.  This is a central oasis that doesn’t require big planning.  Stop at KFC or your favourite take out place, get your food, carry a blanket (or not!) and head off to the zoo.  The zoo has recently been transformed and the grounds which were lovely before with huge expanses of lawn, are even lovelier now with the addition of many many palm trees and the creation of new picnic areas. You can picnic in peace and quiet under the mango trees and enjoy the quietude and breeze.  The children will enjoy running up and down  looking at the animals and you can walk with them or not.  It never gets tired.  There are new animals with the promise of more to come.  There are interactive exhibits where for a little more money (think 200.00 per person) you can feed the birds or pet specific animals.  Check it out!  It’s a fun, hassle-free way to take a few hours off and just relax.

3.  THE NATIONAL GALLERY

An hour and a half in the gallery on a quiet Saturday morning down town Kingston is a wonderful way to expose your children (and you too!) to another side of our culture.  Sometimes there are exhibits and activities there geared towards children. Admission is free I believe.  Parking is secure.  And when you are finished., just take a walk with your children along Harbour Street.  Take them into Burger King for a little treat.  Easy, fun and memorable.

4.  TOM REDCAM LIBRARY

I could almost copy and paste the verbiage for the National Gallery here.

5.  EMANCIPATION PARK

The park is lovely in the evening, just before the sun sets.  It’s still light, but it’s cooler.  There’s an icecream shop opposite the entrance to the park.  Get a single scoop of your favourite flavour and saunter slowly into the park.  Chat, walk, people watch and grab a seat on a bench or on the grass.  From time to time there are shows there that you can enjoy for free.  But even without a show, the park remains a great choice to just exhale and clear your mind.  Really young children love it. The huge expanses inspire them to just run, and by the time you get home and bathe them they’re ready to crash!  Hint: keep those toddlers awake in the car on the way home so they sleep when you get home, and you can relax with a glass of wine in from of the TV.  Heaven!

6.  HOLLYWELL PARK

It’s just a 45 minute drive from Papine.  Pack a picnic, wear your sneakers, carry your sweaters and lots of drinking water and fruit.  A regular car can make that drive.  Once there, I think you pay a nominal entry fee (something like 200.00 or 300.00 per adult and way less per child).  Park and take one of 2 main hiking trails. Young children can do these walks. Each trail is 45 min long with great views along the way and lots of interesting things to see.  Check in at the Ranger cabin so someone knows you are out there.  Ensure that you have your cell phone and get to walking.  Aim to get there by 10:00 am. and do your hiking then.  The afternoons get overcast, misty and rainy…great picnic weather huddled under one of the many gazebos on property.

7.  DRIVE-OUTS IN AND AROUND KINGSTON:

So I love to drive!  Grab your favourite music, make a big deal of it, and load up the car.  Head out to the lighthouse near the airport.  Watch the planes come in, look at the sea.  Talk.  Collect rocks along the shore.

Drive through the more affluent neighbourhoods like Beverly Hills, Norbrook, Cherry Gardens and do some harmless House Hunting.  It’s fun.  You can chat along the drive.

Do the Port Royal Tour.  I don’t think it’s more than 500.00 for adults. It’s fun and it’s informative.

I highly recommend the Bob Marley Museum tour.  Can’t remember the fee, but it is way less than a movie for sure.  Even children will find it interesting.

Go for ice cream at Devon House.  Saturday afternoons are good.  It’s not too crowded, and it feels like such a treat to break your day and just sit under a tree or gazebo eating great ice-cream.

Mayfair Hotel in Kingston is a great spot for the kids to swim and Mom and Dad to have a drink.  For 350.00 you can swim and relax under a huge mango tree out back.  There’s a bar and grill.  It’s central, quiet and safe.

8.  LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!

Palace Amusement rocks.  I loooove the movies: the dark and cool and nachos and my sneaked in flask of tonic to take me through animate features (I hate cartoons in any form).  Nowadays, I consider movies a big budget item!  So I carefully choose what we’ll go to see and make an event of it.  And to be perfectly honest, I go by myself after work from time to time. Ain’t nothing nicer than sinking into that cushy seat by yourself, in the dark with your snack of choice, enjoying not having to talk for 2 hours and being entertained. Try it…

Take the kids to an age appropriate local play.  My kids enjoyed Breadfruit Kingdom

They enjoyed the Pantomime last year too.

Save some $$$ and look out for all-inclusive hotel specials and do this once per year.

Create your own rituals.  In my house, Sundays are special.  I throw down on a Sunday and we lounge around at the dinner table for 3 hours eating and talking.

Always be on the look out for festivals, free shows, exhibitions, etc that you and your children could be interested in.  Naturally, this list is not exhaustive.  There are numerous big ticket items like the Water Park in Negril, paint-balling in St. Thomas, Mystic Mountain and swimming with the Dolphins.  You can plan for these.  I haven’t spoken about Castleton, heritage stops in various parishes, and the many other beaches around Jamaica Land we Love.

My next road trip will be a drive to Black River to do the Black River safari (1600.00 per person).  I may stop at the Grace agro-processing facility in St. Elizabeth on the way back and get a tour of the facilities.  We’ll see…

It’s always more about building the memories and creating an environment and context where your children feel safe and loved.  Have Fun!!!!!

Cafe Blue: The Response

My earlier blog entry Poor Customer Service at Cafe Blue got the attention of Management there, and I got the following response today.  I think the response is commendable, and I appreciate it.  I replied with thanks and also asked that they consider my simple and practical proposals.  I hope they do.  Since posting, I have received feedback from more than one person that their experience there has been less than satisfactory.  I think their product rocks, and I  hate to see entrepreneurs fail because of factors that are entirely in their control.  Entrepreneurs are that intrepid bunch of brave souls who risk capital and dream big…long may they live!



Good Afternoon Ms. McIntosh,


We sincerely apologized for your last experience at Cafe Blue.  I was forwarded your blogged regarding your experience at Cafe Blue and we are all very sorry that the issue was not handled with more urgency and care. We strive to provide you with the best possible strive, and when you feel that it fails to meet your expectation, its important for us to know, so as to address the issue. Please know that we take this very seriously. This was an oversight on our part and we sincerely apologize. We have already address and will be reviewing our procedures to avoid any reoccurrence of such event in the future.


Though this is no consolation to you for our lack of service, we would love to be given the oppotunity to regain your trust. On behalf of the Cafe Blue Team, we are offering you a Cafe Blue Gift Certificate which is valid until December 2012 as a token of our appreciate of having you as a Cafe Blue customer.




We sincerely apologize for your past experience and hope that your next visit will exceed the last.




Please let me know where and when you would be able to pick up the Gift Certificate.




Thanks








Regards.

Poor Customer Service at Cafe Blue, Sovereign

So I had an hour between assignments in Kingston last week Friday morning and I decided to have coffee at Cafe Blue in Sovereign.  It wasn’t crowded at 8:00am and I placed my order for a large latte and smoked marlin on a wheat bagel.  The cafe is a very comfortable space and it smelled like heaven (we do have the best coffee in the world you know!).  The person who took my order appeared to be the manager/supervisor on duty and she was pleasant and welcoming. So I sat, exhaled and took out the daily newspapers, grateful to start my day in such a relaxing way.  Ten minutes passed…then 15 minutes…then 20 minutes…I started to get edgy and restless now…I noticed the place filling up, and then I noticed a couple who had come in after me being served.  Okay…maybe their order was simpler than mine…no problem.  Then I noticed a man who had come in after me being served….not cool!  And by this time, the woman who was directly ahead of me had finished eating and got up to leave.  All this time, none of the staff noticed that I was simply taking up space with no coffee, no nothing in front of me.  I tried to catch the eye of one of the wait-staff, but that never happened.  By this time I was steaming.  I absolutely hate when my time is wasted or taken for granted.  So I got up after 25 minutes and went to the counter and said: “I’d like to leave now.  May I get a refund?”  The cashier/supervisor looked at my receipt and said: ” Oh no!  Sorry.  Please don’t leave”.  I looked her dead in the eye and gave her the Kelly stare and repeated that I’d really like to leave.  But truth be told, I needed that latte…and I still had time.

Still very put out, I sat back down and in 5 minutes one of the wait-staff bought my latte.  She was pleasant and smiling and faintly apologetic, but had no explanation for what happened. So of course I asked her what went wrong…she shrugged and smiled nicely and said she did not know.  Sigh.  In another 3 minutes, my bagel was brought to me by the Cashier/Supervisor.  She was very apologetic.  But she offered no explanation as to what happened.  You know I asked what went wrong.  She said something about my order being overlooked and again apologized.

Here’s what Cafe Blue did right: They apologized when I brought it  to their attention that I had been overlooked.

Here’s what Cafe Blue did wrong:


The staff including the manager were totally unaware of what was happening in the small space that they managed, and how pleased or not their clients were.  A simple scanning of the room at 3minute intervals to ensure that all was as it should be would have clued them in to the fact that the hottie in the corner (me) had been sitting sans coffee for far too long!

They offered no explanation for what went wrong.  Most people I think are reasonable, and sometimes stuff happens.  Had I been apologized to with an explanation that they misplaced the order or something…anything…I would have been somewhat mollified

They offered zero compensation for my inconvenience.  I was sharing with my Bestie how absolutely put out I was at the treatment that was meted out to me at what he considers to be his favourite coffee spot. I thought that it would have been a great touch for the cashier/Supervisor to offer me a muffin or a small gift voucher to use on my next visit to Cafe Blue as a gesture of goodwill. In fact, the voucher would have been a brilliant peace offering, as it would go a long way in ensuring that a dissatisfied customer would return in the future for another chance to be wowed by great service and food.  He shook his head sadly and said that they staff were probably not empowered to give away a muffin or a JD300.00 gift voucher.  “Only at the Ritz-Carlton can you expect that type of service, Kelly.”  He related a story about his having to wait in line in a certain store in the USA for 30 minutes and how apologetic the sales clerk was when he got to the top of the line.  That sales clerk rang up the phone case that Bestie was buying and gave him for free!

The latte was all that I had anticipated and the bagel and smoked salmon on point. It wasn’t the food that left that bad taste in my mouth.

Don’t sacrifice due process for expediency

Here are my thoughts on the Jamaican Government’s latest move to bypass the office of the Contractor General in getting specific initiatives underway.  I wrote them in the form of a letter to the Editor and The Sunday Observer published the letter today:

Don’t sacrifice due process for expediency

Sunday, April 29, 2012

 Dear Editor,
Rendering the role of the contractor general redundant by creating a commission to “expedite” well-needed investments and get projects up and running is not only a retrograde step, but it is moreso an extremely dangerous action.
It is dangerous in terms of the precedent that it will set, allowing Parliament to bypass legitimate organs of the State which were born out of the need to ensure that the tax dollar is spent in the best interest of the country and to ensure that all decisions that affect Jamaica can stand up to scrutiny. It is dangerous, too, given the fact that Jamaica has a legacy of corruption at all levels of society.
The fact that we have racked up massive debt over the last few decades with very little to show for it (think of our decaying physical infrastructure, think of the state of our health and education sectors) is testimony, I believe, to pervasive corruption even if we have not fingered specific individuals.
Let me be clear though, I agree with the notion that Jamaica does not have the luxury of time to sit, ponder, twist and turn when it comes to taking advantage of opportunities that can help to remedy our dire economic and social situation.
I insist that the need to act quickly and decisively, anlong with the need to ensure the presence of checks and balances to guarantee transparency and accountability, are objectives that are not at odds with each other. It is entirely possible for the various State bodies and agencies that are beholden to the citizens and taxpayers of this country and are indeed funded by our blood, sweat and tears, to operate in such a way that the twin ideals of action and accountability coexist to our benefit.
Let us consider what happens in the private sector. As entities grow there is a natural tendency for bureaucracy to set in, and process and form quietly replace that entrepreneurial spirit that propelled them forward in the early days. Indeed, there is a role for the evolution and implementation of policies, procedures and internal controls as the organisation grows and there is more at risk.
But those of us who work in the private sector have seen quick decisions and rapid fire execution when the leadership agrees that a particular initiative is critical to the growth and sustainability of the organisation. What happens is not a disregard for policies, procedures and internal controls, but rather a swift redeployment of resources within the organisation.
That results in the critical initiative being bumped to the top of everyone’s list of priorities and the relevant due diligence is done sooner rather than later, allowing for speedy decision-making and implementation. This is what we refer to as “fast-tracking”.
What I am therefore proposing is simple: once specific initiatives that will help grow the economy and satisfy social imperatives are identified, the notion of “fast-tracking” or speeding up things should kick in. Surely, it is not beyond our Parliament to agree on critical initiatives and to then convince the Office of the Contractor General — the organ of the State charged with ensuring that the tax dollar is spent in accordance with structures that have been set up to protect the taxpayer — of the need to expedite the relevant due diligence, allowing for the speedy decision-making and implementation that I spoke of just now.
Expediting here does not mean bypassing or overlooking. Expediting means allocating resources in such a way that agreed on priorities are dealt with sooner rather than later.
We ought not to sacrifice due process for expediency, and we don’t have to.
Kelly McIntosh

The L Word…not Love, but Leadership.

Like the other L word, this one means different things to different people.  But I think it is safe to say that one question sums it up in a universal way: “Who’s in charge here?”.   Leadership is a field of study all on its own.  Numerous tomes have been written on the subject, everyone has an opinion on it and it is often blamed when things don’t turn out as planned.

I’d like to weigh in with my own thoughts on the topic.
I believe that leadership can move mountains.
I believe that more people are comfortable being lead than are comfortable being leaders.
I believe that there is most definitely a role for someone to define and articulate a vision and get a team       on board to make that vision a reality.
I believe that a good Leader ought to ensure buy in from stakeholders
I believe that there is a role for a final decision maker.  I believe that a single person ought to be held accountable for the final outcome.
I believe that the role of the Leader is to facilitate constructive conflict and then allow the best ideas to prevail
I believe that the Leader ought to coordinate execution activities
I believe that the Leader ought to encourage and deliberately seek to build Leadership among the team of followers

That being said, I also believe that there are some character and personality traits that are common to effective leaders:
Integrity
Mental agility
Articulate by nature
Salesmanship
Understander of human nature
Open minded
Good listener
Decisive
Unafraid of confrontation
Good negotiator
Visionary

Imagine an organization where conflict is encouraged, allowing innovation to flourish…
Imagine an organization where your boss can integrate information quickly and articulate an end game that both challenges and inspires… Imagine an organization where all personality types feel as if they are really part of the team… Imagine an organization where decisions are made in a transparent manner in the best interest of the organisation, sooner rather than later….

Now just re-read the few sentences above, putting “Jamaica” where “Organisation” is…
We can do better.

Hard work they had left behind with slavery.

“At Kingston, Jamaica, in April 1975, Prime Minister Michael Manley, a light skinned West Indian, presided with panache and spoke with great eloquence.  But I found his views quixotic.  He advocated a “redistribution of the world’s wealth”. His country was a well-endowed island of 2,000 square miles, with several mountains in the centre, where coffee and other sub-tropical crops were grown.  Theirs was a relaxed culture.  The people were full of song and dance, spoke eloquently, danced vigorously and drank copiously.  Hard work they had left behind with slavery.”  From Third World to First. The Singapore Story: 1965-2000.  Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew.

Forcing me to think…

Sigh. That observation was made more than 35 years ago…I sincerely hope that by now we have ditched the notion of wealth redistribution.  We are still the same size and we are still well endowed.  We still are full of song and dance.  We still know how to speak, announce plans and create an impression with words. (Never mind that the English language continues to rot in the mouths of so many: our children and leaders alike!)  Here’s the clincher per LKY: we don’t work hard. We don’t work hard? 

Yet, I remember on Christmas Eve last year I was making my way home in the heavy Dec 24th traffic with Miss World and Little Master. Our light had just changed to green. And slowly making her way across the road, preventing me from from moving on was a woman pushing a heavily laden cart with produce.  She strained and pushed wearily, obviously heading home from selling all day.  Little Master said: ” Mummy, don’t blow your horn!  Isn’t it sad that that lady has to work so hard on Christmas Eve?”.

Did you know that vendors in our markets gather their produce and take a long journey every Wednesday night to their market of choice and often remain there until Saturday night?  Sounds like hard work to me.

What of domestic helpers who leave their own children behind to live and work in the homes of middle and upper class Jamaicans, caring for those children.  Sounds like hard work to me.

What of the single mother who is holding down a job in corporate Jamaica.  She drops the children to school and then heads in to office to put in 8 hours. She picks up the children in the evening and heads home through bumper to bumper traffic.  Homework and dinner prep mark her next shift and then she gets to do it all over again in a few short hours.  Sometimes, she manages to squeeze school in to all of that!  Sounds like hard work to me.

Quite a few of our local companies are posting huge profits…GraceKennedy, Sagicor, NCB, BNS, Pan Carib, CPJ, Honey Bun… Did the profits happen without hard work?  Let’s slow down here…  I’m sure somebody had to sweat out a strategic plan.  I’m sure somebody had to craft the weekly and monthly reports that checked to see that they were on track.  So yes, somebody was working.  Sure…you ask: how much of those profits were generated from productive endeavors where value is added to A to create B, creating a base from which future profits are guaranteed?  And how much of those profits were generated from simply moving prices for goods and services up higher?  When will the law of diminishing returns set in?
I’m not setting out here to validate a business model.  It seems to me that in spite of the model, somebody is working.

The Jamaica Stock Exchange

Then we have a SME sector that is still breathing…I think of a venture like EduFocal, small food processors, small players in the hospitality industry, entertainers, consultants, traders and farmers…these brave souls who risk their own capital and manage to make a decent living for themselves and their families!  Sounds like hard work to me.

Yet 35 years after the great Lee Kuan Yew made his observations, here is what we have: a shrinking manufacturing sector, the real foundation I think, for creating a sustainable, profit generating base from which to grow.  Our debt is increasing, crime is on the rise again and our trade deficit widens with each setting of the sun. We pray for IMF funding for our nation that has been “independent” for the last 50 years.  Our leaders fantasize about a “Greek-style” bailout.  We seem to have perfected the art of “after the fact”controls, sussing out public sector corruption long after the horse has gone through the gate. We seem unable to put in place mechanisms which prevent it from happening in the first place.

So is our present state due to the fact that we left hard work behind with slavery?   


I humbly posit that the correct answer begins with “L”.

More anon.

Here’s what I think about Great Customer Service in Jamaica

I work hard for my money, so when I spend it, I want to feel appreciated.  After all, in most cases, I have a choice. Here in Jamaica, we’ve been slow in recognising the need to make Customers happy.  The social anthropologists among us can go to town postulating as to why this is indeed so.  So anyway, when I do have a good experience in the places where I spend my money, I like to share them.  Amazon blew me away when I broke my Kindle last year and they replaced it without blinking an eye, also crediting my account with the USD50.00 that it cost me to ship the damaged one from Jamaica to the States. My expectations were exceeded at no cost to me.

The Shell Gas Station in Havendale

The female pump attendants here are always smiling.  It’s amazing how something as simple (and free!) as a smile can transform the interaction between customer and server.  They always end the transaction (still smiling) by wishing me a safe journey.  One night I couldn’t stand it anymore and I asked to see the supervisor. I told her that I had been buying gas here for years, but that in the last couple of weeks, the staff has been so friendly and polite and I wanted to know what happened!  She told me that the team meets for a few minutes before start of business and sets the tone for the day. I congratulated her and told her to keep up the good work.  I can get gas anywhere, but the consistently pleasant interactions keep me coming back. 

Courts Jamaica Ltd.

So last year this time I bought a TV at Courts.  At the time of purchase, the clerk advised me to purchase the warranty with a bit of advice about buying electronic items without this little bit of insurance.  So I did.  In late December, the TV started showing an awful green tint that would most times disappear about 30 min into viewing.  But it was damned annoying!  My heart was heavy as I contemplated lodging the complaint with Courts…I really couldn’t find my purchase documents, I thought I’d have to schlep the damn thing to Courts, I quivered at the thought of only one TV left in the house while they dealt with the green one and I groaned inwardly at the thought of what I was sure would be an unplanned expense.  Anyways, the horrible green tint aggravated me long enough (2 months!) and I dug one night until I found my purchase documents.  I went to Courts and lodged my complaint.  I told the Customer Service rep dealing with me that I almost couldn’t find my documents.  She smiled sweetly and and assured me that all my information was in the system and it wouldn’t have prevented them from attending to my issue! She said a technician would come to my house, assess and decide whether to repair or replace.  Amazing! Yay Courts Jamaica!!!!  Long story short: that complaint was lodged at noon.  At 6pm that same day, a well dressed and well identified technician showed up at my house.  He was professional and efficient and in 15 minutes my TV was fixed and re-installed! My need was met without any hassle whatsoever to me.



Jamaica Automobile Association

When a dead battery left me high and dry, totally immobile at my house this past Tuesday, I determined that I must never again be in a situation where I have to be calling around and hoping that someone would rescue me!  So after my local taxi-man came and jump-started my car and I dropped the kids to school (not too late!) and replaced my battery, I settled down at my desk and called these JAA people.  The lady I spoke to assured me that had I been a member, all I would have to do is call the number on my membership card and they would come and bail me out!  Note that I had called my insurance company who are supposed to have a roadside assistance plan, but they totally blew me off and told me that roadside does not extend to my garage!  Next time I’ll push the damned car out to the road and give them a call!  Rubbish! I will be dealing with them later and will simply switch providers if they will not meet my need.  Miss JAA filled out a membership application form over the phone, advised me of a promotion going on (50% off current rates!) and told me that she would send someone to collect payment.  I am now a JAA member without even leaving my desk.  My need was met without any inconvenience to me.  They also have a great website, where you can join and pay over the web.  Rock on JAA!

Chad-Ad Distributors Limited

Rewind back to the part where I replaced my battery…

Right. So I drove into Chad-Ad on Marcus Garvey Drive where I had bought my now dead battery 1 1/2 years ago.  Note that there was a warranty on my battery for 1 year, but I had totally voided the terms of the warranty in that I did not have them inspect the battery every two months.  Anyways, the same mechanic who installed my battery 1 1/2 years prior was still there and he inspected by battery and tested stuff that I suppose was relevant while I waited in air-conditioned comfort. He came back with the verdict: the battery had a defective cell.  And while I had not honoured the terms of the warranty and while 12 months had long gone, they would give me a 33% discount on a new one.  Furthermore, they were out of stock of the battery I needed, but another of their outlets nearby, had in stock, and would I wait just a few minutes for them to get it for me…Oh yes indeed!!!!  I drove out with  a new battery, having saved some money and yes, this time I’ll honour the terms of the warranty.  My need was met, I was comfortable and I saved money.

about GSAT

GSAT is an exam that all students in Grade 6 in Jamaica have to do in order to be placed in one of the hundreds of government run secondary schools on the island.  Standards of performance vary widely from secondary school to secondary school, with the better performing ones being in the minority.  There is therefore stiff competition, with literally thousands of children vying for only scores of places in these more desirable institutions.   Here’s a letter that I wrote to the editor of our leading daily, the Gleaner, that was published on Wed Feb 29.  It got Letter of the Day.

LETTER OF THE DAY – GSAT Symptom Of System

Published: Wednesday | February 29, 20128 Comments

THE EDITOR, Sir:
So GSAT is to be reviewed. That is good news, though I am not sure what is going to really be achieved in the final analysis.
In my opinion, there are two issues at play here: GSAT as a tool to assess a grade six student’s knowledge and competence per his/her grade level; and GSAT as a tool to place students in a secondary-schoolsystem which appears to have different levels of success, evidenced by CSEC examination results.
I am a mother of two, and my experience with the GSAT curriculum aggravates me on two levels. First, it seems that GSAT emphasises trivia at the expense of the thorough understanding of mathematics and language arts. There really is nothing wrong with general knowledge, but when children are forced to cram information such as the second-largest lake in South America or the name of the third ship that Columbus sailed on, it leaves little time to ensure that the foundations of learning are properly crafted.
Second, with the volume of information these 11- and 12-year-olds have to memorise, little time is left to explore other areas of learning that are critical to building well-rounded, self-assured individuals. The end result is that the fun is sucked out of learning and the natural curiosities that lead to inventions, innovations and learning are snuffed out.
Thousands disadvantaged
The other issue is with GSAT as a placement mechanism. With just a few schools being deemed ‘good’ based on exam results at the secondary level, and thousands of children and their parents seeking entry to these ‘good’ schools, GSAT effectively acts as the selection tool.
Therefore, thousands of children who achieve average results (75-85 per cent) are made to feel like underperformers and placed in the ‘not-so-good’ schools.
The issue here is not that there is GSAT at all. The issue is Jamaica’s educational system, where performance at the secondary level varies significantly from school to school, the better-performing institutions being far fewer in number than the underperforming ones.
The bottom line: No matter how you tweak GSAT, until performance increases across the board in our secondary schools, you will always have to screen and select in order to place children in the few ‘good’ schools. This is our reality, and our children suffer.
KELLY MCINTOSH