Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Jamaica Requires Distance to Appreciate It.

Basil Waine Kong

During February (2011), I hosted a group of friends (golfers from the United States) and want to share their perspective about their experience. There was no end to the friendly bantering and camaraderie as they raved about the absolutely first class golf experience they enjoyed, with incredible vistas and caddies who were accommodating and knowledgeable about the game. The Villas were grand and staffed by expert cooks who offered magnificent meals, good service and hassle free living. But after a trip to downtown Montego Bay, visiting various destinations and becoming familiar with Jamaica’s history, politics, culture and economy, convinced them that Jamaica requires a little distance to appreciate it.

Our country of wood and water is characterized by majestic mountains in a perpetual state of awesome verdure dotted with flowers until you experience bauxite waste, the smell of rotting garbage and shanties along our river-banks. Our people are famous for their wit and charm but also the soul-sucking tedium of Rube Goldberg procedures and bureaucracy. It alarmed my colleagues that our Justice Minister admitted that she doesn't know how to use e-mail and was still agonizing over a percieved insult from 30 years ago. We all agreed that our white sand beaches are the best in the world until their solitude was repeatedly disturbed by beggars and hustlers selling valueless trinkets and herbs. We market ourselves as warm, hospitable people. And we are, but not when engaging in that suicide pact that is called driving. My friends wondered if we have Jekyll and Hyde personalities. (One citizen is killed each day from automobile accidents).

As my friends were escaping drifts of snow and ice in the United States, they exited our modern airport facilities in worshipful admiration and fell into rapture over the beauty of our island’s perpetual summer and proclaimed it a paradise until they encountered our petty crimes and hungry children begging on our streets. A lovely cloudless blue sky day accompanied by a gentle cool breeze was obliterated by the blight of aggressive, undisciplined, contentious and disorderly vendors and street-side ginalds. According to Mark Wignall: "this land of ours it at once a fairy tale, a paradise, a puzzle and a horror story." (Jamaica Observer, Sunday, March 13, 2011)

Daily reading of our Newspapers revealed the following:
1. Dangerous and deadly criminal networks are tolerated by our political leaders leading to the death and demise of thousands of our citizens.
2. Four Jamaicans are murdered annually and three more are missing and presumed dead including our vulnerable children. One citizen is killed by our police each day. By comparison, New York City with four times as many people, has only one homicide per day.
3. The police do not help when citizens are expelled from their homes by Dons and gangs simply because these victims without recourse support the wrong political party.
4. Squatter communities with unsightly zinc shanties are here and there and everywhere because of whole scale poverty and homelessness across the length and breadth of Jamaica.
5. Businesses and business owners are constantly being harassed for protection money and must add the expense of “security” to their already burdensome cost of doing business because of heavy utility costs and harassing government bureaucracy.
6. One out of three Jamaicans cannot read or write. We further burden them by giving most of our young men police records that make them ineligible to ever leave the country or find employment.
7. We have a penchant for blaming the victims. We do not provide toilet facilities for poor people and when they have to “make do”, they are regarded as nasty. We spend our educational budget on the talented twenty percent who abandon the country after they complete their education but the Ministry of Education will not provide employable skills for those who must stay and then blame them for not being gainfully employed.

Is this any way to run a country? The question they ask is: "How can a country with so much talent and natural resources be so badly managed?"

I recommend to them that if they want to appreciate Jamaica and our endless sunshine and bountiful rains, that they do not see it up close and personal. The wonders of our island is truly stupendous but our under belly is horrendous. We are like a lighthouse, forever focused and looking externally while our base is ignored. Maybe we need to shine some of the light on our nooks and crannies.

According to Betty Ann Blaine: “It is time to call a spade a spade, and lend our hearts and voices to a call for justice to be served against those who have done harm to our people and our country, while we seek at the same time to fix the systems and structures necessary to preserve life and to promote prosperity.”
(“Crimes Against Humanity”, Jamaica Observer, Tuesday, March 8, 2011)