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February 21 2014

PHOTOS: Humans of the Caribbean

Following in the footsteps of photographer Brandon Stanton's blog Humans of New York series, professional and amateur photographers alike have been creating their own versions of the project across the world. Via blogs and Facebook pages, they are collecting images and stories of people from all walks of life. Here is a glimpse into some of the pages that make up the Caribbean's contribution, featuring the work of regional photographers who want to showcase their country or city through portraits of its diverse people.

Humans of Aruba, by Vanessa Paulina, was one of the first regional projects:

“As I was approaching the ladies got intimidated by my camera and fled the scene. He greeted me nicely so I stopped and asked if I could take his picture and explained to him what the purpose was.
He was okay with it so I asked ‘Fransisco Bennet’ what he was up to and if he could tell me what according to him the secret of a good life was. “
Photo by Vanessa Paulina. Used With Permission.

 

Humans of New York inspired Corrie Scott to start Humans of Barbados in Sept 2013. According to her, these types of projects are “…a wonderful way for us all to get to know us humans around the world.”

“How long does it take you to make these hand crafted palm brooms?”
“About 10 minutes not counting the collecting of the palm leaves, shredding them, gathering the wood for handles and more.”
“How long have you been making them? For me they are an art form in their beauty and the best broom I have ever used.”
“40 years.”
“Make lots of sales?”
” Some, but only to older people as the young generation always asking me what they are for.”
Photo by Corrie Scott, Used with Permission.

 

Humans of St. Croix was started in October 2013 by Charlene Springer:

“The Almighty Creator create all of us and then he give us a way of life. He guides the human beings with prophets to teach these human beings how they should live, how you should worship. This is why I color my beard because of our holy prophet, (peace be upon him, and peace be upon all of the holy prophets), he used to color his beard so I just do that to follow him. It is not for style or beauty, just to follow him. My prophet is Mohammed born in Saudi Arabia and his teaching are spread all over the world. His teachings does not deny any teachings of the previous prophets and actually all the previous prophets teach the same thing, it is the people that keep messing with the prophet's teachings. This is why the Almighty keeps sending different prophets to remind them that this is my way don't go astray.”
Photo by Charlene Springer. Used with Permission.

 

John Manderson started the Humans of Bermuda page back in November:

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Johnny Barnes (born John James Randolf Adolphus Mills, June 23, 1923) is a Bermuda native found waving to passing traffic at the Foot of the Lane roundabout in Hamilton, Bermuda, from roughly 3:45 am to 10 am, every workday, rain or shine. A Bermuda institution mentioned in several guidebooks and profiled in a documentary film, he is known for waving and saying ‘I love you, God loves you,’ to passing commuters during the morning rush hour into Hamilton.” Photo by John Manderson, Used with permission.

 

Nathalie Tancrede also created Humans of Haiti last November. This month, she is launching the page and hopes to “bring attention to the beauty and resilience of the Haitian people.”

“My parents could not afford to send me to school. I now live in the streets with a few other guys.”
He acts tough with the others but told me privately that all he wants is to go to school and learn like the other kids
Photo by Nathalie Tancrede. Used With Permission

 

Edward Russell III started Humans of the Bahamas when he discovered the Humans of New York project, soon after he left his job at a local newspaper, where he'd been a photojournalist for five years.

I looked at this man smiling.

I looked at this man smiling.
“You want to take a picture ey?”
I nodded.
“Go ahead then.”
Took the shot.
“That will be two dollars please!”
Photo by Edward Russell III. Used With Permission.

 

Bobby Ramroop runs the page Humans of Georgetown (Guyana):

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“If you own a chiney resstrawnt, sell actual chicken for once. And if you and somebody fall out, forgive them and wish them the best. Don't send them christmas cards threatening to stick a corncob around the first 2 corners of their large intestine. If you follow that we’d have a better society.”
Photo by Bobby Ramroop. Used with Permission.

The thumbnail image used in this post is by Corrie Scott, used with permission.

February 17 2014

Race as a Political Weapon in the Caribbean

Of all the offensive – and unintelligent – statements made in the politics of the post-independence Caribbean, an assertion, that Dr Keith Rowley, the leader of the Opposition in Trinidad and Tobago, is ‘too black’ to be Prime Minister, has to rate as the worst.

Bajan Reporter explains why such a notion “highlights the continuing insecurities in persons and groups in the Caribbean.”

Could Barbados’ Economic Crisis Spread to Other Islands?

Abeng News Magazine's Mark Lee says that the latest International Monetary Fund (IMF) Country Report “reads like a good cop bad cop interrogation of the Barbados economy”. Read the details, here.

February 13 2014

February 12 2014

Drug Bust Holds Lessons for Caribbean Distribution Chains

Of the recent drug bust originating out of Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados Underground says:

The fundamentals are clear. Supply chain security in the Caribbean is weak, and known local and regional solutions need to be applied and strengthened.

February 08 2014

Station's Rights to Sochi Games Leaves Caribbean Viewers in the Dark

Six Caribbean teams are competing in this year's winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia: Bermudathe Cayman Islands, Dominica, Jamaica, the British Virgin Islands and the US Virgin Islands. Naturally, sports fans throughout the region want to watch – but there's a problem. SportsMax, a premium subscription-based television station, has been awarded exclusive rights to the 2014 Sochi games in the Caribbean. “Inside The Games” reported on the details:

The deal, announced between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and  International Media Content Ltd (IMC), the parent company of SportsMax, is applicable for 21 nations and territories ranging from Anguilla to Trinidad and Tobago.

It consists of exclusive English language broadcast rights on all media platforms, with live coverage to be provided on both SportsMax and SportsMax2 for the duration of the Games when they get underway in Sochi.

Columbus Communications, owners of the Flow cable network which operates in several Caribbean territories, took to its social media outlets to address the issue:

Flow Fans, please be advised that SportsMax holds the exclusive broadcast rights to the '2014 Winter Olympics’ in the Caribbean for the period February 7th to 23rd 2014. Olympic programming will be broadcast mainly on Sportsmax 1 with some content on Sportsmax 2. Consequently, we are legally required to blackout the coverage of the games on all channels including but not limited to NBC & CBC who will be carrying portions of the SOCHI games. During the blackout periods the affected channels will carry a notice to our customers advising of the blackout requirement and directing you to SportsMax. 

We understand the inconvenience that this issue poses and are aware and acknowledge that blocked content is disruptive for our viewers, however we MUST comply. Once the broadcast rights to air a program is (sic) purchased we are obligated to block out that program (when requested) as both a legal and regulatory (TATT) obligation. Failing to comply could lead to legal actions against Columbus Communications Trinidad Limited. This arrangement is not unique to Trinidad, all video service providers worldwide will be required to take similar action based on the Network which has purchased the rights in that country. 

Irate Jamaicans posted on Flow Jamaica's Facebook page about having to pay to watch their team parading in the opening ceremony and competing in the games. Diego Armando Thomas had this to say

So because i don't have the #SportsMax package on #Flow I am not allowed to watch the #Olympics? This is BULL. You block the channels am paying for? Really!!!

Another viewer, David Valentine, urged Jamaicans to take action by writing to the Jamaican Broadcast Commission:

This is a sheg up situation, taking advantage of the people who no have no options. The blasted Olympics should not be held ransom, by forcing people to pay for some purely subscriber based channel. Imagine if Showtime did have the exclusive rights to the Olympics? Something wrong with this blow wow picture man. Them really corrupted. PEOPLE WRITE TO THE BROADCAST COMMISION!!

Others expressed their disgust on Twitter:

One viewer who subscribed to the SportsMax service was dissatisfied with the coverage of the opening ceremony:

Competitor cable provider Lime has been offering viewers in some of the countries in which it operates, a free trial of SportsMax for the duration of the games:

The issue of broadcast rights for local television stations versus those of the cable company was discussed in this post:

Television programmes generate advertising revenue for broadcasters such as TV6 and CNC3. While customers pay cable providers for premium channels, it should be noted that  the programmes which occupy the schedules on these channels are governed by separate contracts.

While SportsMax is indigenous to the region, it is a pay-per-view service, and some netizens have complained about the failure of free-to-air broadcasters to obtain rights to the games. Yvon Tripper commented on an article in the Bermuda Royal Gazette:

IOC simply gives rights to the highest bidder. Nothing is stopping a Bermuda-based broadcaster from asking the IOC for Bermuda-only rights, and then just using the American and Canadian feeds. If no one in Bermuda pays for broadcast rights for the island's Olympic coverage rights, then there's no point in complaining when someone else does. The IOC would be happy to exclude Bermuda from the Caribbean region if it mean that they got more money — it's all about the Redbirds, baby.

While Trinidad and Tobago is not competing in the games, none of the terrestrial broadcasters have purchased rights to the games, forcing interested viewers to subscribe to SportsMax for live coverage. Annoyed cable subscribers vented their feelings on Twitter:

The Sochi Games run until February 23, 2014.

February 07 2014

Caribbean Numbers Involved in Telephone Phishing Scam

If you see a missed call originating in the Caribbean from someone you don't know, it is likely that you have been targeted by perpetrators of the ‘one-ring phone scam’. While the numbers used in these phishing activities can originate anywhere in the world, Slate reports that Caribbean numbers have been noticed with alarming frequency over the past few weeks:

The Better Business Bureau lists calls from Antigua and Barbuda (268), the Dominican Republic (809), Jamaica (876), the British Virgin Islands (284), and Grenada (473) as potential scam threats. People who do call back could be charged something like $30 for the international call, depending on the carrier, and see fraudulent service fees showing up on their phone bills. This process of ‘cramming,’ when third-party scammers sneak bogus charges onto legitimate phone bills, is ever on the rise, according to the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission.

Affected persons around the world took to Twitter to report the issue:

Occurrences of these calls have also been reported in Trinidad and Tobago on Facebook. Shelley-anne L Thompson weighed in on the discussion:

I get that like once a month and have never called. come on, people you know this scam! dont let your curiosity trap you.

Maisha Hyman had this to say:

I'm glad to see this! I've recently had hang up calls from Antigua and Grenada! Like wtf?!

Others were more concerned about the impact of the scam on the region. Michael Nahous of Trinidad and Tobago was not amused:

How can they charge you $30.00 without some contract arrangement with the telephone carrier….its only digicel, cable wireless and the local telephone companies in these islands…if they know its a scam why cant they just disconnect the number.

People affected by the scam are being urged to alert their service providers if they spot any unusual charges on their phone bills.

February 04 2014

Blog Carnival Shows the Caribbean Some Love

The online feminist collective CODE RED hosted a month-long blog carnival called e-Mas, under the theme “To the Caribbean, With Love.”  The series featured contributions from writers all over the Caribbean. According to the organizers:

Still confused about what a blog carnival is? Think of all the usual ingredients of a Caribbean carnival and try to replicate those with words, images and/or sound.  The theme is broad enough that you can guh to town pun it!

This led to a wide variety of posts being published – essays, poems, photography, even vidblogs – touching on a broad spectrum of topics, all united by the Twitter hashtag #DearCaribbean.

Carla Moore presented a vidblog in which she discusses why some people choose to stay at home in the Caribbean even when they can leave:

Moore inspired Klieon Cavon to do his own vidblog entitled “Basseterre Woman”:

Akeema-Zane preferred to write about her experience: 

For the first time you will eat swordfish from Oistins and cry out loud in the clear blue waters of Pebbles Beach, praising the universe and all of creation for the now, the yesteryears and the tomorrows and acknowledging in that present moment that you deserve every rainbow, every sun-kissing sky, every laugh and smile. You will hug yourself tightly because you dared to feel the enormity of your existence-that you are real and not imagined; that you are highest form of beauty personified. You will love yourself so strongly, so deeply, that you will be moved to the highest gratitude of thanks. For everything known and unknown and everyone who allowed you to be!

Saieed I. Khalil examined what the Caribbean integration movement can learn from the mass protests in Ukraine:

But who among us will participate in the uprising to galvanize policymakers to act? In Ukraine, some estimates put the portion of youths under 30 participating in the protests at 90%! Many of them are students and wield degrees. This leads us to the second lesson of the Maidan protests: a mass of young, educated people who are sufficiently mobilized can lead the strike for regional integration. Why them, and not older folks?

Diaspora Dash shared her discovery about the cultural impact of the migration from the Anglophone/Francophone Caribbean into Venezuela, while Jermain Ostiana wrote a poem entitled Trujillonomics:

Little kids drawing veves
with anti-capitalist
black angel dust.
Yeah pah I love you
even if you been god-awfully indoctrinated by the Dutch.
While you suited up
in a cold temperatured office
helping the corporate to connive.
The kids be in classes without airco and iPads, school teachers struggling to inspire.
And this kingdom s’posed to be heaven?

Maureen St. Clair admitted that she did not really learn to love her own body until she moved to the Caribbean:

 I began to respect and love my soft round belly passed down by my Mother, Grandmother and Great Grand. In Grenada for the first time I witnessed gorgeous full bodied women who weren’t afraid to be their natural selves, who weren’t afraid of the flesh on their bodies, didn’t try to hide or camouflage their size through large clothing, didn’t feel great shame for the bodies their mamas passed on to them.  It was the first time I experienced women moving with confidence and delight; gratitude and pride.

Lina Free wrote “a love letter to the Caribbean”:

Every day is a struggle, oui, but here in the Caribbean is where I want to be battling. From the beach in Tobago where I spent my first New Years Eve after coming back, drinking too much and hugging up everybody too much, just abrim with love, to the tent cities of Port Au Prince where women bathed, bare breasted, in plain sight of every tom, dick, and harry passerby- you continue to succor as well as challenge me, Caribbean. This, I love. 

Gabrielle Hosein wrote about the challenges of being an Indo-Caribbean feminist:

Indian womanhood now is even more complex than three generations ago. Unapologetically, I’m in solidarity with the young Indian lesbians from South, the well-educated Muslim mothers not ready to marry, the young Hindu women who have chosen to terminate pregnancies because of unreliable partners or income, and the girls whose decisions about love may cross racial lines. I’m all for the ‘good’ Indian girls too, whoever and wherever they are. We all draw on religion, history, ancestry, mythology, cultural diversity, modernity and sisterhoods that cross ethnicity in ways we creatively combine. Regardless of how we choose to weave together our best, most fulfilled, most equal selves, I think it’s our right to decide.

Vidyaratha Kissoon, who inspired the blogging mas, also wrote about being Indian and from the Caribbean:

But is funny, when I lef dis part uh de world.. how ah does push de Caribbean ting. ( i was tellin’ a fren is Burnham jumbie in me.. an’ I laff when I remembah how dem people in Englan’ used to tell me dat i soun ‘black’ an’ how i join up wid de African and Caribbean Students Society instead of de Asian Students because I feel like I had more in common wid black ‘Caribbean’ people. Anodda time ah had to laff because a drunk India coolie computer man.. we bin at a conference party.. tell me dat is a good ting we ancestors lef India because at least we could dance.

The Contessa wrote about appropriating the Baby Doll ole mas character as a way to challenge conventional notions of sexuality:

The Baby doll conventionally provides commentary on teen-pregnancy and responsible fathering and can easily be extended to other related issues such as breast feeding and child rights. At the competition level, baby dolls tend to use current social and political events, making their speeches relevant, witty and sometimes controversial.  This however did not prevent the looks of slight shock and discomfort I received back stage after telling two of the other “dolls” that I would be looking for my child mother and not father this time around. I guess some things remain taboo despite our Carnival’s history. 

Take a look at all the submissions, here.

December 06 2013

Caribbean: Farewell, Nelson Mandela

It's not like Caribbean – or global – netizens haven't been preparing themselves for news of Nelson Mandela's death. The former South African president and anti-apartheid activist was, after all, 95 years old and in poor health, having been hospitalised several times this year for recurring respiratory infections. Still, the announcement, when it came, dealt a hard blow. Regional bloggers and social media users shared their thoughts about the passing of one of the world's most enduring icons of peaceful resistance.

Bloggers, for the most part, seemed lost for words, preferring – at least for the moment – to share news reports or quote official statements about Mandela's passing. Guyana's Propaganda Press republished excerpts from President Jacob Zuma's address to the people of South Africa, along with a short biography of Mandela, while The Bajan Reporter posted a tribute to the late president by former Commonwealth Secretary General Sir Shridath Ramphal.

The majority of Caribbean netizens chose to share their reactions on Facebook and Twitter. Raynier Maharaj, a member of the Trinidadian diaspora and a journalist, commented on Facebook:

OK, if it seems I am dwelling on Mandela's passing, it is because it means a whole lot to me. Of all the ‘famous’ people I have met in my life — and this includes the Queen and the Dalai Lama — meeting Nelson Mandela was one of the greatest privileges in my life. He was the epitome of dignity and grace.

Another Trinidadian journalist, Vernon O'Reilly Ramesar, noted:

A testament to his importance that even the US media break into programming to announce the passing of Nelson Mandela.

Facebook user Skye Hernandez was saddened to hear of his death:

I feel strangely sad at the news of Madiba's passing. He has finally gone to his rest and that is surely a good thing. But his story and South Africa's have been so inspiring, sometimes so vexing, always riveting. He's been with us for all of our lives. Travel well, Nelson Mandela.

Franz Gillezeau suggested that people:

Mourn the man, but remember to celebrate the legend.

Facebook was also filled with newly uploaded photo albums chronicling Mandela's regional visits – this one, courtesy the Jamaica Information Service, of his visit to the island in the early 1990s, and this one, by Amber Media Productions, of his 2004 visit to Trinidad and Tobago.

On flickr, Georgia Popplewell posted a photo of Mandela, noting:

I fear it will be a long time before we see another leader of his calibre again. Farewell, dear Madiba. #Mandela

Nelson Mandela; image by caribbeanfreephoto

Nelson Mandela; image by caribbeanfreephoto

Not everyone agreed with this assessment, however. Over at the Cuban diaspora blog babalu, drillanwr wrote:

History will remember his life, to be sure.

While I appreciate and respect Nelson Mandela's struggles and his being a political prisoner within his own country for a large part of his life, I am not unaware of his post-prison political ideology and all the friendships he held with some of the world's nastiest leaders.

In a follow-up post at the same blog, Carlos Eire suggested that:

Mandela's sainthood falls short of universal acclaim, especially among Cubans. While he dedicated himself to a noble and righteous cause – ending discrimination against black Africans in South Africa – Mandela was not at all opposed to employing violence as a means for his cause. Worse than that, he expressed nothing but admiration for Fidel Castro and his noxiously racist tyranny, and never stopped singing Fidel’s praises.

In striking contrast, Capitol Hill Cubans shared this perspective:

Nelson Mandela is no longer physically among us, but his legacy of sacrifice, perseverance and freedom will endure forever.

Despite first espousing violence during the early days of his activism, Mandela's life journey demonstrates the transformational power of peaceful, civil disobedience.

His passing is also a reminder of the sacrifice of the world's historic political prisoners, such as Cuba's Eusebio Penalver Mazorra, the longest serving political prisoner of African descent in modern history, having served 28-years. Sadly, Penalver passed in 2006, without seeing his beloved homeland free.

Along with former Czech leader Vaclav Havel, Mandela is the ultimate representation of a political prisoner-turned-freely elected leader. From Cuba to North Korea, his extraordinary life gives endless hope to the democratic aspirations of dissidents, political prisoners and activists throughout the world.

Rest in peace and freedom.

Twitter users – world-wide – have been using the hashtags #mandela #death to offer their condolences. The Caribbean blogosphere will undoubtedly have much more to say about Nelson Mandela and his legacy once the reality of his death sinks in; the GV Caribbean team will provide updates accordingly.

November 07 2013

Pilots’ Strike Leaves Caribbean Travelers Grounded

Regional airline Leeward Island Air Transport (LIAT) was forced to ground its flights this week becasue of a pilots’ strike, apparently as a reaction to the indefinite suspension of Captain Carl Burke, the leader of the Leeward Islands Airlines Pilots Association (LIALPA).

According to Barbados Today, the suspension was due to Burke's intervention on the behalf of a suspended pilot, Captain Neil Cave: 

…the action against Captain Neil Cave and LIALPA boss Captain Carl Burke followed the grounding of an aircraft for technical repair on Saturday.
Cave, who was scheduled to fly the plane, was apparently not satisfied that the appropriate test procedure was used before bringing the aircraft back into operation.
He also reportedly highlighted discrepancies with the official paperwork and this led to his suspension the same day.
Cave reported the matter to LIALPA and Burke tried to intervene on his behalf during a meeting with Director of Flight Operations Captain George Arthurton, but he was also placed on suspension.
The pilots are now demanding the immediate retraction of both suspensions and a written apology from the airline.

Earlier, Burke had warned of an impending “meltdown” due to ongoing problemsat the airline including what was considered the poorly coordinated upgrade from Dash-8 to ATR planes.

There was a petition being circulated which called for the shareholder governments to completely revamp the management of the airline. (LIAT is collectively owned by the governments of Antigua & Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Barbados.)

LIAT released a statement informing the public of the flight cancellations and advising them of the necessary actions to take:

 LIAT wishes to advise its passengers that due to action taken by its airline pilots’ trade union LIALPA, pilots who were scheduled to fly this morning, Tuesday, November 5, 2013, have not reported for duty. The company has not been provided with the required notification of industrial action as required under its agreement with the pilots.

As a result of the action, some of the company’s morning flights have been disrupted. This is also likely to affect service for the remainder of the day.

The statement continued:

LIAT also wishes to advise that passengers who decide to travel but are unable to complete their journey due to the disruption, will not be provided with meals, transportation, hotel accommodation, etc. Passengers with onward connections are advised to contact their respective carriers.

Fifteen flights across the region were affected. According to reports, until the issues with management are dealt with satisfactorily, the pilots will remain off the job. There was a meeting scheduled yesterday between LIAT's management and the union, but there has been no word on the outcome.

Despite being the main regional carrier, LIAT does not have a great reputation for being well run; his was reflected in the reactions on social media, which saw the strike as just the latest example of the company's dysfunction:

@princesshadmoss was hardly surprised at the shutdown:

Robert Tonge thought the company should file for bankruptcy and re-organize:

@ShonelleBaker expressed support for the striking pilots:

Natasha B. was just relieved that she got home before the strike began:

At Barbados Underground, David implored the shareholders (i.e.: the governments) to intervene for the sake of the travelling public:

These disruptions by LIAT simply cannot continue. We are seeing an impact upon the lifes (sic) of Caribbean people in a way which has gone passed (sic) being unacceptable. Surely the Chairman can do better than the pompous and arrogant mouthings which he offered yesterday by way of an apology. Next time he should encourage his Communication Specialist to give him a script.

Enough is enough, will the real shareholders please stand up!

In the Facebook group St. Lucians Aiming for Progress, Dane Gibson suggested that the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA) bailout LIAT:

ALBA/PetroCaribe- is an international cooperation organization based on the idea of the social, political and economic integration of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. What better links the islands than a regional airline…… Put ALBA to the test …….Let ALBA bail out LIAT, put and agreement in place to purchase its fuel at the offered bargain prices, reduce operating cost for LIAT, and since their agreements are the best thing since slice bread broker a restructuring for LIAT . Open up the routes to promote travel and tourism with Latin America and the Caribbean. Lets not make it about largess. Lets make it about open transparent agreements, that benefit all the PEOPLE.

Leigh Allan believed that the governments should relinquish control of LIAT:

Government should stay out of LIAT because time and time again government around the world have proven they can't manage businesses. Not too long ago the board of directors gave themselves a huge Pay Increase or Bonus rather than pay cuts or paying their bills. Corporate governance lacking has always been a huge problem in the Caribbean.

Sandra Inglis disagreed

 LIAT started out as an investment by some of the govts in these islands, to generate inter island travel, first of all. Now you're saying these Govts need to get out of LIAT'S affairs? But LIAT is their affair! 

In Antigua, Joya Martin noted that after their initial release, LIAT hasn't given any updates on the situation:

No fb updates from Liat on pilot strike action in almost 48 hours. It would be nice to be pleasantly surprised once in a while. They wouldn't dare to be so lax in communicating if we islanders had a strong alternative choice in regional air travel.

October 27 2013

The Codefather

emtage_portrait

Barbadian Alan Emtage, inventor of the world's first Internet search engine. Photo by Michael Rhodes. Used with permission.

“I wrote a piece of code that gave birth to a multi-billion dollar industry. I didn’t make any money off of it, but I wouldn’t change anything.”

Uttered by a man with a Barbadian lilt, those were the opening lines of the Huffington Post video released last April that introduced many in the Caribbean to Alan Emtage, the 48 year-old computer scientist who did indeed write the piece of code that gave birth to a multi-billion dollar industry called Internet search.

Whenever we use a search engine such as Google, we’re referencing the work of Emtage, who, in spite of only recently being discovered by his home region, is a bona fide tech pioneer. His invention, in 1990, of Archie, the world’s first search engine, figures in any respectable account of the history of the Internet.

Born in Barbados in 1964, Emtage was raised in an extended family that instilled in him a strong curiosity and “capacity for discovering stuff”. Especially influential were his mother’s aunts. Aunt Constance Inniss, a science teacher and headmistress of St. Gabriel’s School, encouraged him to listen to the BBC’s science programs and took him fishing on the sea wall near the family home at Carlisle Bay, where they’d discuss what they saw and caught. Emtage remembers her once waking him at 3am to see a comet.

At Harrison College, one of Barbados’ elite secondary schools, Emtage found himself in another positive learning environment. He followed the science track, pursuing Maths, Physics and Chemistry at ‘A’ Levels, and was attracted to computers fairly early on, acquiring a Sinclair ZX81 with a whopping 1K of memory during a visit to the UK in 1981. But computers weren’t an automatic first choice as a profession. At McGill University in Montreal, where Emtage went in 1983 after winning a Barbados Scholarship, several career options presented themselves. He considered majoring in Meteorology, and after coming near the top of the class in an introductory course in Geology he was personally wooed by that department’s chairman.

Emtage admits he chose computer science by a process of elimination. Uninspired by the prospect of “spending my time up in the Tundra poking around for diamonds”, or languishing in “a radar station in St. James” as a meteorologist in the Barbados, he also felt that computer science was a career with legs. “In 1983 we were at the bottom of a fairly bad recession and computers were one of the things that looked promising, at least from an employment point of view,” he says.

After completing his undergraduate degree in 1987, Emtage entered McGill’s Master’s program. As a postgraduate student and sysadmin (systems administrator) in the university’s IT department, he enjoyed a privileged position, with access to the latest in computer technology and a unique vantage point on the nascent phenomenon called the Internet, not to mention membership in a community of expert programmers. The mid-1980s to early 1990s were an exciting time to be a computer science major at a North American university, particularly a prestigious one like McGill. The university had the first Internet connection in eastern Canada and the second in the country. Microcomputer prices were dropping and companies like Sun Microsystems and Steve Jobs’ NeXT Computer were targeting the higher education market; NeXT made what was then its largest ever sale when McGill purchased 50 of their machines.

Still, computers back then were a far cry from what they are today. Computing tasks were carried out by a central mainframe computer, a massive machine usually housed in a general-purpose computing facility. You submitted your task to the mainframe, where it sat in a queue awaiting its turn to be processed. Computer scientists like Emtage spent hours waiting for printers to crank out their jobs on massive sheets of dot-matrix paper.

This was the context in which Emtage wrote the code that would become Archie, the world’s first search engine. His job as sysadmin involved finding software for students and faculty, which meant manually searching computer archives on public servers, a tedious process if there ever was one. Emtage wrote Archie to automate the process and make his own life easier: “Rather than spending my time logging on to FTP sites and trying to figure out what was on them, I wrote some computer scripts that would do the same thing, and much faster too.”

That, in a nutshell, is what’s happening behind the scenes each time we do a Google search, but when Emtage developed Archie in 1989 it must have seemed like magic. Word about the tool spread rapidly thanks to Emtage’s colleague Peter Deutsch, head of McGill’s IT department, who suggested they make the tool public and allow external users to log in for themselves. Archie went viral across Canada, then the world. “There was a lot of pent-up demand,” Emtage says. “Everybody was like ‘Oh my God—of course! Why didn’t we think of this?’”

Others had in fact come up with similar ideas, as is often the case with scientific discoveries. “I had several people, very soon after the fact, tell me that they were doing similar things for themselves but that they had never taken the path to making it public,” says Emtage. “I just happened to get there first and, as there was no commercial competition at the time, there was no incentive for them to replicate it.”

In 1990, Emtage and Peter Deutsch formed Bunyip, a company designed to market a more robust commercial version of Archie—also the first Internet startup in history, in that it was the first company designed expressly to sell an Internet-related service.

As Deutsch had a family, it fell to Emtage to do the work of promoting Bunyip and Archie. “I had an amazing experience travelling around the world to conferences and meetings, meeting all of the people who created the Internet,” he says. As a founding member of the Internet Society and member of the Internet Engineering Task Force, Emtage worked alongside figures such as Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Vint Cerf and Jon Postel.

But the revolution ended up passing Bunyip by. Montreal had a few tech companies, but lacked Silicon Valley’s nurturing ecosystem and community. Emtage and his partners held differing views regarding outside investment in the company (he was in favour). In 1996, a burned-out Emtage left on a three-month backpacking trip around the South Pacific; on returning to Montreal in late 1996, he resigned. A stint working for a Bunyip client lasted a year, after which he joined Mediapolis, the New York web design firm that has been his home for the last 15 years.

Alan Emtage skydiving in Brazil.

Alan Emtage skydiving in Brazil. “Computers are my profession. But they are not my hobby.” Photo courtesy Alan Emtage.

About the alleged missed opportunity to have cashed in with Archie and achieved near-bottomless wealth and fame, Emtage is both modest and philosophical. “Sure, I’d love to have been a billionaire,” he says. “But you don’t get to twist one knob of the time machine and make one thing change: twisting that knob changes everything else. It is not necessarily clear to me that I could have become a billionaire. If I had patented those technologies, perhaps. It is also possible that I would not have been visionary enough to word the patents broadly enough. The first past the post do not necessarily become the most successful. Google was by far not the first search engine, or even the first web search engine. They just did search so much better than their predecessors that they were able to create a multi-billion dollar industry out of it.”

It’s also possible that the quality-of-life trade-offs involved in becoming a billionaire would not have suited Emtage’s temperament. Contrary to the geek stereotype, computers aren’t his life, or even his hobby, as he’s quoted as saying on the “Greatest McGillians” web site. After the dotcom crash of 2000-2001 and the events of 9/11, Emtage and his three partners at Mediapolis took the decidedly un-billionaire-like decision to scale the company down from 17 employees to just the four of them.

The arrangement has given Emtage the freedom to pursue his passions—travel and photography—and spend time at his cottage in idyllic Provincetown, Massachusetts. Also to take a keen interest in certain aspects of technology and US politics. “Off the top of my head I can think of myself as being a minority in four or five different ways,” he says. “And the Internet is my baby, in sense that it’s only five years younger than me. So I have a great interest in intellectual property law, which I think it fundamentally broken, and civil liberties.”

But being part of a four-man outfit also means that there’s “nobody to bump it up to,” Emtage says. “It’s weird for some people that as far along as I am in my career, or in age, I’m still coding and I’m still talking with clients. But I don’t want any of the other stuff. I don’t want to deal with the corporate bullshit and office politics. These are three people that I know very well and I’ve worked with for many years. I know plenty of people who are miserable in their lives—I just try not to be one of them.”

Georgia Popplewell (@georgiap) (is a writer and media producer from Trinidad and Tobago, and Managing Director of Global Voices. A version of this article originally appeared in Caribbean Beat Magazine.

October 08 2013

Court Ruling in Discrimination Case Puts Caribbean First

In March 2011, a Jamaican national arrived in Barbados on holiday – but instead of the typical visitor's welcome, Shanique Myrie was subjected to a cavity search, kept in a dark room and subsequently deported, even though she was carrying no illegal substances. Claiming that her rights as a CARICOM citizen had been trampled upon, Ms. Myrie hired lawyers and a year later, the case was being heard before the Caribbean Court of Justice. Jamaican blog Active Voice took note of the “landmark” case, making the point that the issue of class was playing a key role in the hearing. Back then, the blogger, Annie Paul, explained:

This landmark case is not only about nationality, it’s also about ‘class’, the ungainly elephant in the room no one wants to explicitly mention. It is important to portray Myrie as ‘decent’ ‘respectable’ and ‘sober’ because the image of Jamaicans in the region is overwhelmingly influenced by the higglers, DJs and hustlers who often represent the face of Jamaica, visiting, even migrating to other countries, where they are not always welcome.

Why? because these enterprising but capitally-challenged individuals (ie owning little capital, whether financial or social) often violate all the dearly held norms of ‘decency’ ‘respectability’ and ‘good taste’ with their choice of garments, raw speech and boisterous behaviour. They regularly transgress the zealously guarded borders of civility and decorum as much as the borders of nation states which under the new Chaguaramas Treaty they now have a right to breach.

Perhaps this was why Myrie was given the finger when she arrived in prim and proper Barbados, regionally glossed as ‘Little England’. Not just because she was Jamaican but because she was perceived to be a particular kind of Jamaican.

Last Friday, the court ruled in favour of Shanique Myrie – and bloggers have been taking about it. Today, Propaganda Press posted the executive summary of the ruling. The Support Shanique Myrie Facebook page was also full of status updates and comments about the favourable judgment:

Shanique won, we all won, justice is served we r free to move abt OUR caribbean!!

Luther Tull wrote:

Congrats to Ms Myrie, U stood firm against a state n won, some of these officers don't seem to think that people have basic HUMAN RIGHTS n abuse what authority they have, so this victory is for all the people of the caribbean who were abuse n was scared to challenge the state.

Jersey Jersey quipped:

…looks like Barbados may have to pay some money that we cant (sic) afford. Civil Servants again, we need to be like Greece, fire them when they don't perform

The Facebook page, unsurprisingly, kept diligent track of the events, and was very clear in the understanding that the case was also about the state of regional relations. Quoting from a Jamaica Observer editorial, the page administrator posted this update:

All of this has raised questions about the value and relevance of Caricom to the citizens of its 15 member countries.
Indeed, these events have created resentment and an inclination to dismiss Caricom as nothing but a government ‘talk shop'. The governments themselves have not done enough to address the problem, which, if a solution is not found, will undermine the worth of Caricom to many of its citizens.
On January 28, the highly regarded former prime minister of Jamaica, PJ Patterson, publicly asked at a meeting of the Rotary Club in Guyana: ‘What purpose does the Caricom passport serve if travelling within the region is still like an obstacle race?’

This post explored the issue even further:

As a Jamaica[n] living in Barbados, I must say that we all need to look beyond our nationalities and face the issue for what [it] is. Whether the young lady is telling the truth or not, this incident should be used by both states to take an internal look at its domestic policies and address the various issues with prudence. Issues such as, to what extent are we truly committed to free movement?

Is there proper legislation in place to ensure that Immigration officers, Customs Officers, Police and other civil servants do not usurp their powers? I can attest to ill treatment from Barbadians at the airport too, but one could proffer that this is exemplary of immigration officers all over…or not?

The point is that we need to train our public personnel to address each other in a cordial manner and to not constantly overstep their boundaries. There is an underlying problem that we must address, and it has very little to do with Jamaicans backing Jamaicans and Barbadians being Xenophobic…we need to reassess the extent to which we are committed to integration and to earning rather than demanding respect.

Finally, Barbados Underground wrote an in-depth blog post about the outcome of the controversial case:

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) decision between Shanique Myrie and Barbados…continues to resonate across the region – editorials, talk shows and on the streets. What is evident is that members of Caricom need to better manage how we promote freedom of movement given our obligation under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (RTC).

Loud by its silence has been the reaction of Barbados to the decision. The DNA of the Barbados government is to be slow in deliberation. One wonders though if the Prime Minister sees a need to demonstrate a departure from the norm given the psychological punch Barbadians have taken since the decision was delivered.

There is general acceptance that Immigration, Customs and Police officials in Barbados need to be more efficient in the execution of their duties. The Myrie matter hopefully has embarrassed the country enough to drive needed change at our borders. The bigger issue arising from the CCJ decision is the protocol which ALL Caricom States must establish to allow Caricom nationals to cross borders…

The post went on to question the wisdom of a free market economy

There are lessons coming out of the EU experience which exposes the weakness of a free market. There are the borders of member countries whose economies are stronger which will be bombarded. There is currently discussion in the UK about floating a referendum to decide on the whether to leave the EU. Until then its borders continue to be peppered by the Easter Europeans.

There is something wrong with the Caricom free market model when there is mass movement from the largest members to the smallest.

…and ended with more questions than answers:

Now that we have this decision how will Jamaica treat with the Haitians? How will Barbados respond to the CCJ decision? Hopefully it will not ignore the CCJ Order…

August 27 2013

A Brick in the Wall of Tertiary Education in Barbados?

During the recent budget presentation in Barbados, Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler announced that the government would be cutting its subsidies for students at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill campus. The blogosphere is divided over whether the move is a good one for the country.

In his speech, the Minister said:

‘While remaining committed to providing continued access to university education, the government cannot simply continue to preside over a situation where the growth and development of the non-university component education system is severely retarded. The country needs to be able to build capacity at all levels of the education system.

As a consequence, the government has decided that in an effort to assist it in meeting the exploding costs of university education it has now become necessary to ask students attending and desirous of attending the University of the West Indies to contribute to their education in a more direct manner.’

The Minister explained that the government would look to means-testing and a revamped student loan program to make sure deserving students are still able to afford school. Education in Barbados has been essentially free up through university level since independence. This has been critical to the island's development and many Barbadians took great pride in this. The government's decision has spawned great debate, encompassing issues of education policy and debt management.

David Commisiong of the Clement Payne Movement, widely regarded as a left-wing political entity, called the decision of the government an “act of political treachery” and considered it to be a betrayal of the legacy of the ruling Democratic Labour Party‘s founder and former Prime Minister Errol Barrow.

If this is not an act of political treachery, then what is?

[This] is being amplified by the fact that Barbados has just gone through a General Election, and at no time during the course of that Election campaign did the DLP indicate to the Barbadian people that they were proposing to institute such a drastic severing of the fundamental social rights of the people of Barbados. In fact, they did just the opposite, suggesting that it was the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) that was threatening the social rights of the Barbadian people, and that a vote for the DLP would be a vote to preserve such social rights as the right to ‘free’ education at the University of the West Indies.

Commisiong made the point that key political figures were themselves the beneficiaries of the subsidized schooling initiative:

Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and the vast majority of his Ministers have all benefitted from ‘free’ education at the UWI! Stuart…was born into a poor working-class family and was raised by a single parent – his mother – who worked as a maid. But Stuart was fortunate to come of age in an independent nation whose founder -leader – Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow – had had the good sense to accord the right of young Barbadians to education from the Primary level to University level, the status of a de facto fundamental human right, and to put a system in place whereby the cost of education was collectively borne by all taxpayers, rather than being left on the shoulders of the individual student and his or her biological family.

He concluded that the matter should be decided by a national referendum:

The people of Barbados never gave the DLP Government any mandate to dismantle the system of ‘free’ University Education. Let us therefore raise our voices and demand that they put this issue to a vote by all of the people of Barbados in a nation-wide Referendum! We, the Barbadian people, must be permitted to have a say in something as fundamental and serious as this!

Omar Best Delice, meanwhile, wrote an essay exploring the issues related to funding education in Barbados:

To effectively determine how best to structure tertiary educational policy in Barbados, the issue thus comes down fundamentally to what is the purpose of education and specifically tertiary education? Is tertiary education special or distinct from primary or secondary education? If it is, what special attributes or benefits does it derive that the other two types of education are less equipped to? If tertiary education however, is nothing special, but merely an expansion of primary and secondary education, why would it or should it receive differential treatment compared to the other types of education?

According to Delice, education cannot be seen as just another government service, given its role in development:

Education and its contributions are fundamentally more important towards economic and social value creation than virtually all other types of services fathomable. The particular form that tertiary education has taken in the Barbadian society is culturally idiosyncratic, having been forged by prior policymakers as a means to ameliorate a very real societal condition and a history that saw vast majority of the populous disenfranchised from significant economic contribution and value creation. It would therefore be remiss to divorce cost of tertiary university education from an understanding of the totality of the benefits it has provided over the years.

At Barbados Underground, a reader named “Fair Play” defended the decision and felt that most Barbadians supported the government's stance:

I believe our plan to ask students to contribute a small part of the cost of their tertiary education at UWI has more public support than we think. Talking to people from all walks of life, and ironically, particularly among low income earners, there is much support.  Their comments run the gamut from: it makes sense; the country cannot afford 100% funding at this time; other countries that are better off than us don’t do it; and, it should have been implemented long ago; to, they have an attitude after graduation – forgetting who paid for their education; and they do not give back to society, especially the doctors and lawyers who charge the same benefactors (the taxpayers) very exorbitant fees.

Commenter “Prodigal Son” wondered why there was not an outcry from the university community:

Let them keep their silence, say nothing and do nothing. Let me tell them something…if less people are able to send their children to UWI, there will be less money going into the coffers of UWI, the UWI will have no alternative but to cut and combine programmes. Thus there will be no need for so many lecturers, professors, deans, tutorial leaders, programme assistants, office staff etc.

Imagine not a word on the severity of the cuts to the QEH [Queen Elizabeth Hospital] and to me this is the worse (sic) cut of all. As a caller to Brasstacks [a radio programme] said yesterday, the government can provide children with free bus rides to get to the UWI but when they get there, they cannot go in as they have no money to pay the UWI tuition cost the government has imposed on them.

So keep your silence, UWI elite, this is the poor’s time, your time will come!

The Guild of Students at the University of the West Indies has decided take up the issue with the government.

August 22 2013

July 12 2013

July 09 2013

Caribbean: Tropical Storm Chantal

Tropical Storm Chantal has caused the temporary closure of some regional airports and the cancellation of flights. The Bajan Reporter has the latest.

Barbados: Homophobia & Child Abuse

Code Red uses the example of a child abuse case in Barbados to make the point that “the buggery laws perform a double injustice. They criminalise sexual relations between adults and support a culture of homophobia and…support an inadequate response to child sexual abuse.”

June 10 2013

Barbados: Bush Bath

In Barbados, where religion is high on people's list of priorities, Notes From A Small Rock is considering taking a bush bath.

April 22 2013

Barbados: The Economy & Crime

This is not the Bimshire I moved to six years ago…there was no gun culture. The problem is still one we could control if we had leadership who put resources into fixing the problem rather than denying its existence.

Notes From A Small Rock sees trouble in paradise.

March 26 2013

Barbados: Shutting People Out?

Has Barbadian society become more exclusionary? Code Red cites a report that suggests it might have.

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