gentrified goats, imported cars

ATL Autobahn opened a few days ago in Jamaica’s capital city.  At the cost of US$15 million, the state-of-the-art car showroom and service center has the regional dealership rights to BMW and MINI brands.  With solar panels providing the majority of its power supply and UV-deflecting treatments on the see-through structure, the ATL Autobahn is stunting stunning.  The Autobahn is definitely a stylish space that complements the sleek, modern design of the automotive brands it houses.

I know what I know about the Autobahn because I read the Observer‘s feature on the space in today’s newspaper.  But my outsider’s perspective gave me some insight, still. For months I had driven by the space that was ultimately to become the ATL Autobahn. And when the zinc fencing first went up on Lady Musgrave Road, the first to feel the sting were the goats. This is because there are not many green spaces left in the New Kingston area, and the unpaved lot that existed where the ATL Autobahn now rests, was prime grazing land for some twenty or so plump, happy goats.  Well, goodbye goats; you were unable to withstand the gentrification process.

photo source:

The Lady Musgrave Road goats are now long gone — relocated to greener pastures, I hope.  Today, the ribbon has been cut, the asphalt has been laid and the concrete, steel, and glass have been erected on Lady Musgrave Road, a road that already carries a history of inequality and privilege as it was paved to appease the insulted eyes of 19th century governor of Jamaica Lord Anthony Musgrave’s wife.  It was more than one hundred years ago when Lady Musgrave expressed her preference not to see the mansion of Jamaica’s first black millionaire George Steibel. So, to satisfy her sensitivities to black wealth, Lady Musgrave’s Road was constructed.  Today, the goats are gone, the grass is gone, but, in a way, some of the inequality remains.

Last Saturday night, current BMW drivers and the brand’s prospective consumers were treated to an exclusive grand opening party that was akin to a “New Year’s Eve celebration,” according to The Observer‘s report.  The highest ranking public sector officials were present and private sector moguls were in attendance as well.  Adding to the party vibe, Saturday night’s festivities also featured the musical contributions of the girls’ dem sugar himself, Beenie Man. In his coverage of the event, Rory Daley said that Beenie Man, who famously sang out for the keys to his Bimma twenty years ago, drove into the function modelling an X3M 40i compact SUV then launched into the lyrics of “Sim Simma.”  The guests all happily sang along while admiring the collection of cars on display.

The BMW or Bimma has long been seen as a status symbol.  Screenshot_2017-12-15-11-48-03After all, it is the ultimate driving machine.  It has been the aspirational vehicle for many drivers the world over.  It is the vehicle that one drives to communicate driving excellence, smart wealth, and a need for speed.  Yes, it is a dream car, but who in Jamaica can comfortably afford this dream?  Not most, I’m afraid.  When I see the shiny new imported cars, and calculate the duties and taxes to have them here, I am reminded of The Roots’ pointed music video for their 1996 hip hop classic “What They Do.” (The above picture is from the music video. If you haven’t seen the video or heard the song, click here and enjoy.)  Screenshot_2017-12-15-11-38-25And from a practical stand point, in Jamaica, where potholes (like the one pictured at left) litter the roads, where rains can easily flood the interior of a car, and parts are expensive to replace, I find it perplexing that with a very low ride height BMW’s 3- and 5-Series vehicles are still sold.  I suppose status symbols trump practicality.  I suppose idolized objects of wealth win even when they are not ideal for the terrain.  Why else is there a Porsche dealership in Jamaica?

Despite the roads and despite the goats, I still very much salute ATL Autobahn. I applaud them for being able to bring an ultra-sleek, energy-efficient architectural space to Jamaica and I am impressed that they did so so quickly. I am also happy to know that Jamaica’s economy is doing well enough for this dealership to be viable. But, when I drive by, I won’t be singing Beenie Man’s Bimmer song.  I’ll be thinking of Protoje.  Protoje, who did not perform at the opening event, also sings of the BMW and how it can sometimes be a marker of a less savory Jamaica.  I’ve cued up the verse below; so you can just hit play. 

I suppose national development struggles are always multi-fold, affecting the environment, the people, the animal life, and the economy.  Still, I worry about those old Lady Musgrave goats. I hope they are well. As Kingston considers what symbols it wants to project about its status, this capital city will have many more gentrification battles to face.  Goats are just the beginning.

the end is near

Today is World AIDS Day (#WAD2017) and this year’s campaign theme is “Let’s End It.”  World AIDS Day was the first global health day.  The worldwide day of recognition began in 1988 as a campaign to raise funds to fight the disease, raise awareness about the disease, and commemorate the lives of those who have succumbed to the disease.

For too long AIDS has been thought of as “those” people’s disease. Since the dawn of fear and blame, “those” people have allowed “us” to sleep without worry. “Those” people remind “us” that “we” are okay.  And with AIDS it is no different. “We” reason that AIDS is a disease afflicting LGBTQ individuals, so “we” recklessly reason that if “we” do not engage in same-sex encounters, we can never be infected.  “We” reason that AIDS is a disease of drug-abusers, so we recklessly reason that as long as “we” do not use intravenous drugs, “we” can never be infected.  “We” reason that individuals infected with HIV/AIDS are unattractive, undesirable, economically depraved, unkind, unholy, or uneducated.  “We” tell ourselves that HIV/AIDS happens to people who are unfamiliar, people who are unlike “us.”  This is the kind of flawed logic that allowed HIV/AIDS to spread during the 1980s and 90s.  Few were willing to face the reality that HIV/AIDS has no sexual preference, no socioeconomic  preference, no religious preference, no type at all. HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus, needs only a human body for it to thrive.

On this global day of support and reflection, I would like to spotlight the work of poet, writer, playwright, and academic, Kwame Dawes and photographer Joshua Cogan. 41b33zhidrl-_sx326_bo1204203200_After carrying out dozens of interviews with HIV infected individuals in Jamaica, in 2007 Dawes and Cogan, in partnership with the Pulitzer Center, created a visually stunning, multi-modal, and interactive website called Live Hope Love (and a book published by Peepal Tree Press) that takes a very human look at HIV and AIDS on the island of Jamaica. For too long HIV/AIDS has been thought of as “those” people’s disease, not “ours.”  With the nuanced dexterity that only a poet and a photographer can bring, HIV/AIDS is explored in a way that reminds everyone that disease has no face or status, and that this disease does not discriminate.

In a poem titled “News,” we hear the voice of a man, newly diagnosed with HIV.  Kwame Dawes captures the voice of reflection, ignorance, and regret.  Dawes captures the voice of someone who thought he knew what AIDS looked like, someone who chose unprotected sex and wound up with a life-long diagnosis.  Below, I quote portions of Kwame Dawes’ poem “News.”  I warn you, the poem is uncensored and raw in language as well as in subject matter.

At first you look at your naked self

and you hold your dick in your hand,

and you think, “all this, all this

over some quick and fleeting fuck?”

You say you was minding your

business when the woman call

you; say you must come in,

take a test; you say you never know.


But people talk and you heard. Hannah

dead of AIDS. And you remember

Hannah, her legs over your shoulder,

And the way she laughed, dear God!


Outside, you can’t talk to a soul;

don’t know where you must turn.

You want to take a shower, and to shower

For days and days, and days.

But this betrayal of desire

is a cruel, cruel thing, for true.

Let Kwame Dawes’ words serve as a reflection and a warning. Don’t let the ignorance, discrimination, or the “betrayal of desire” infect you.

When we begin to understand that HIV/AIDS does not discriminate, then we all work to end the isolation and the stigma associated with the disease.  And when we end discrimination and commit to protection, we all help to end HIV transmission.  In honor of World AIDS Day and in honor of all those who have died to this disease, I urge everyone to be wise.

#spreadtheword  #dontspreaddisease