International Parenting: Avoiding Stereotypes With ‘Rastamouse’


My son is having an international childhood. His father is a Canadian who lived for a long time in the U.S. and his mother a Spaniard who lived for a long time in England. We divide our time between Santander in Spain and Oxford in England.

One effect of this is that he has different associations for different places. England, for example, is a summer place, a small-town place where in the early morning before going to camp or the park he gets to watch TV. Spain isn’t a TV place because TV sucks in Spain. We didn’t even bother buying a TV there.

I don’t mind him watching BBC because they have some great kids’ programs. One of his favorites also helps make him more international. It’s called “Rastamouse.” Rastamouse is a mystery-solving Reggae mouse musician who always catches the bad guys. Once he does, he shows them the error in their ways and helps them make amends. Rastamouse calls this “making a bad ting good.” It’s a nice change from superheroes, who simply kick the bad guy’s ass.

“Rastamouse” is hugely popular in the UK and is coming soon to the United States. It hasn’t been without controversy, however. Some viewers think the cheese on the show is a symbol for marijuana, ignoring the fact that Rastamouse and his friends are, um, mice. A less silly complaint came from Daily Mail columnist Lindsay Johns, who in his op-ed on “Rastamouse” objects to the Jamaican patois. He says it panders to racial stereotypes and that “the BBC is leading us down the path of linguistic rack and ruin.”

“Very soon (if they aren’t already), a whole generation of primary school children will be rushing around the playground mimicking Rastamouse and saying, ‘Wha gwan?'” he writes.

So far, I have yet to hear my son imitate Rastamouse, and if he did I don’t think that would lead him to forgetting the Queen’s English. I also don’t agree with Johns’ statement that Rastamouse’s being cool means he isn’t cerebral. He solves a mystery every episode by analyzing clues.I let my son watch this show because, unlike what some of its detractors say, it actually breaks stereotypes. I have to admit to a certain amount of snickering on the part of me and my wife when we first saw this show. We kept waiting for pot references but they never came. We missed the whole cheese thing. Rastamouse creators Genevieve Webster and Michael De Souza (who is a Rastafarian) are clearly not interested in making a cult show for stoner college kids.

Our reaction made me think. While we know that most Jamaicans aren’t lazy pot smokers, we were brought up with that stereotype so it pops into our heads even if we don’t believe it. I was interested to learn from various African-American friends that in their community, Jamaicans are stereotyped as workaholics. One friend who worked briefly as a farmer in Jamaica (growing sugar cane) said he couldn’t keep up with the hard pace of his island coworkers. The TV show In Living Color did a riff on this with a series of sketches of a Jamaican family who have more than a hundred jobs between them. Every skit involved the father complaining about his “lazy, good-for-noting son who only has eight jobs.”

My son is getting a different impression of Jamaicans. For him, folks from that island speak differently but have intelligent things to say, make good music, work hard, and help their erring brothers and sisters “make a bad ting good.”

SkyMall Monday: Velvet Rasta Hat

gadling velvet rasta hatA person’s choice of religion is a serious matter. For many, there is no choice in the matter. They are born into a faith and their spiritual path through life is already mapped out. For others, the search for answers is a quest that lasts a lifetime. Here at “SkyMall Monday” headquarters, we keep things pretty secular, pausing only occasionally to seek answers from the all-knowing one. For those who struggle to find salvation, the journey to inner peace can take them to many destinations. Trying out different religions can be a challenge when many religious practices are meant to take years. One cannot simply grow a beard in a matter of days or learn an entire book of scripture in an afternoon. For those looking for a shortcut, however, the only holy book needed is SkyMall and the only purchase necessary is the Velvet Rasta Hat.Dreadlocks are important to those who follow the Rastafari movement. Proper dreads are grown and maintained over years. If you’re simply dabbling in the faith, however, surely it must be OK to cheat a bit. There’s no such thing as a 5 o’clock dread-shadow, so another solution must be found.

Think that wearing a faux-Rastafari hat is insensitive? Believe that both the hat and the hairstyle have deeper symbolic meanings that should not be mocked? Well, while you don your Flair Hair Visor, we’ll be reading the product description:

Nearly a foot and a half of gorgeous dreads, with a jaunty hat perched on top.

All of the cool, none of the commitment. Perfect for parties or just keeping warm.

Ah, yes, the red, green and gold hat is simply jaunty (and also, you know, representative of the Ethiopian flag and the loyalty that Rastafarian’s feel towards King Selassie). Of course, everyone knows that dreadlocks are worn for warmth, as Jamaican nights can get pretty brisk. But who needs that commitment?

The path to enlightenment is meandering, littered with potholes and fraught with mixed metaphors. It’s an arduous journey that can be mitigated by spending $9.95 plus tax and shipping and handling. Please allow four-to-six weeks for velvet salvation to arrive.

Check out all of the previous “SkyMall Monday” posts HERE.

Destination spotlight: Kokrobite, Ghana, Africa

kokrobite ghana africaFor those traveling in Ghana who want to get out of the big, noisy capital city of Accra, Kokrobite is a beach paradise located less than an hour away. The village is easily accessible by tro-tro from Tema Station, Kaneshie Market, or anywhere else you see people hailing a car. Kokrobite can provide both a perfect day trip or an enjoyable weekend stay.

Where to Stay

Whether you plan on actually spending the night or just the day, Big Milly’s Backyard is the ultimate backpackers haven on the beach. While that might sound like a marketing ploy, I mean it to the fullest extent. Big Milly’s is just as well known as the village of Kokrobite itself and is the place where backpackers and locals both come to hangout, party, eat, and relax. Room styles range from single rooms to suites to dorm-style huts to outdoor tents. The property of the accommodation fills with marketers during the day selling clothing, paintings, toys, accessories, and more. A bar, multiple outdoor restaurants, hammocks, picnic tables, and an ocean breeze add to the relaxing and idyllic atmosphere of Big Milly’s.Where to Eat

While Big Milly’s is a bit pricier than the other restaurants and road-side stalls in town, you will still most likely pay less than you normally would at home. For example, a spinach tagliatelle made with vegetables, cheese, and white wine sauce costs 12 cedis (about $7), mixed roast vegetables with couscous will cost 11 cedis (about $7), and huge plate of vegetable fried rice will cost you 8 cedis (about $5). They also have a snack stand that sells biscuits, crackers and toffee (candy).

If you would like to try something traditional, in town there is a small structure called the Broken Chair Bar. If you go inside, it appears to be the home of the woman who runs it. You can have an authentic Ghanian meal here for extremely cheap. Try the fufu in ground nut soup (a cassava-based dough ball in a peanut based soup) with fried chicken or the jollof rice (rice that is cooked in red, spicy sauce), both about 3 cedis (less than $2).

Culture

Many of the people, though not everyone, who inhabit Kokrobite follow a Rastafarian lifestyle. Walking around the village, there are many small shops and bars that cater to this lifestyle. One fun and unique place to try is Cafe des Artes, an outdoor venue that plays Bob Marley-type music all day long, is decorated with funky beads, and serves fresh palm wine (you can purchase a whole soda bottle full for about 6 cedis, which is about $5). Don’t be alarmed that the wine doesn’t come in a wine bottle, it usually comes in a soda bottle or plastic gas-tank style containers no matter where you buy it.

Drumming is a large part of Ghanian culture, and is something enjoyable to experience for yourself, especially on the beach in Kokrobite. Visit Berlin Drum School and ask them for a lesson on the beach. The cost is supposed to be about 25 cedis (about $15), although with the help of a local friend I was able to get the lesson for 5 cedis (about $3). The boys will create beats for you to mimic, teach you how to properly hold and hit the drum, and will even dance for you.

On Friday and Saturday nights, Big Milly’s hosts cultural shows that bring the laid-back atmosphere of the village to life. Friday nights feature BBQ and bonfires while live cultural acts, such as drummers and dancers, perform live. On Saturday nights, reggae shows and highlife bands take the stage as the dance floor (beach) becomes packed. Beers cost about 2 cedis (about $3), while cocktails are about 4 cedis (about $2.50).

For a video tour of Big Milly’s Backyard, check out this video: