Today, Jamaica celebrates its 51st anniversary of Independence. Although, born here and slightly older than the independent nation, I have never been here for Independence, so this will be a first. My 9 year-old gets to do something I haven’t ever done–go to the Grand Gala and Float Parade at the National Stadium. I hope it will be a thrilling and colorful spectacle and that she can come home and tell me excitedly what she saw and heard, and who and what she saw and heard. I will get the benefit of “improved coverage” on television.
A little local brouhaha has broken out about the government spending J$100 million (US$1 million) on the independence celebrations, not just the gala. I will ask those who go to the gala if they feel it was money well spent in the spirit of cultural education.
Many questions have been asked about what Jamaica has to show for over 50 years of independence, and recently, some have looked at how it has fared compared to Singapore–soon to be 48. Relative to Jamaica, Singapore made its life simple–it applied a lot of the KISS principle. Its ruling party kept political opposition in check–never losing an election. It kept tight rules in place over much of the nation’s life. Singapore started with very little land and very few people. Now it still has very little land, but many more people, and they are considerably richer than Jamaicans in financial terms. They are better educated that Jamaicans. They are more honest than Jamaicans. They produce more than Jamaicans, individually and collectively. But, are they better off than Jamaicans? I’ll think about that a little today.
If I ask myself “For what is Singapore known?” I struggle to come up with five things. I think of food–and Singapore noodles are not Singaporean, as far as I know. I think of rules, especially some seemingly strange ones, such as no chewing gum allowed, or some interesting applications of modesty (no nudity, or hugging in public without permission). I’d applaud the heavy fines for littering, though. I think of Lee Kwan Yew, credited as being the founder of modern Singapore: a clear thinker with a philosophy that was well-focused and consistently applied as a national leader. But, that’s not really a lot, and maybe Singapore, in good Asian fashion, prefers to be less-noticeable, and somewhat self-effacing, and is happy to be judged by what it has done and done. PM Lee made a pact with the people, when he assured them of good education, housing and health provisions, and in return they would give the country their hardest and best work.
That is not Jamaica or Jamaicans, whether it’s from our largely African heritage, years of slavery that needed to be unbound, the impact of too much rum and sun and sand and sea. We love fun and brashness. We love music and wild public display. We love to show off our bodies–though some really ought to stay covered up. We have super egos (“No one is better than me”). We’re happy to be considered inferior, because we believe we are superior, and we will try to show doubters they are wrong. We have a great landscape, from almost every position you care to look, especially from the air. We don’t have a lot of skyscrapers, thank God. We have a lot of bad people, who seem to have no conscience, but they are much fewer than the really good and thoughtful people.
I’ve visited Singapore, and I liked it. I stayed with English, Singaporean Chinese and Malay friends. It was only a week, but I saw a lot and experienced a lot, formally and informally. The food was truly fabulous. I’m sad that I have not been back. I could live there, for the order and cleanliness that surrounds everything, much like in Switzerland. But, give me Jamaica any day. I grew up accustomed to seeing goats on the roadside, and whenever I drive around nothing seems more normal than the simplicity of goats grazing wherever they may be in town or country. I hate litter, and stand gobsmacked when I see gullies strewn with styrofoam boxes and plastic bottles or other garbage. I laugh at the reckless bravado shown by young people hanging out of the back of a truck flying along a dusty road, and hope that they don’t come to any harm, but hanker for a lift up to get in there with them. I love the mayhem of a market or a busy street in Jamaica. Wares and wears for sale. What can you say when a man waves a pair of huge bloomers in the air and yells “Briefs and panties for sale!”? Stephen Stills had it right, “Love the one you’re with“.
So, today, with its tarnished self on stage, Jamaica can try to love itself for what it is, and give itself a big kiss. Who knows, this ugly frog may still turn out to be a handsome prince 🙂