Taking the easy road

I haven’t abandoned my quest for the voice of the consumer. But, another group also needs a voice. They are the people who are not on the easy road.

I wrote a few days ago about the Jamaican ‘anything goes’ approach. I also wrote about the KMT culture of our ‘daily grind’. Now, it’s a day to look at ‘easy road-ism’. You don’t have to go far in any day or place to reap the whirlwind that comes from someone living off the labour of others. If you know your Karl Marx, you should know about ‘surplus labour‘.

I live in a rented house, and the landscaper that the landlord uses is a really lovely lady: she makes me laugh whenever I see her, as we plot ways of getting more out of the little plot and imagine going into small market gardening in uptown Kingston. Yesterday, she came laden with a cloth bag. Inside were some offerings from her garden: pears and green bananas. This is Jamaica and (avocado) pear is in season. We exchanged comments about the merits of various kinds of pears–the dryish tasting ones that are great with nothing else, except perhaps a piece of bulla; the buttery kind, etc. I showed off the bunch of bananas that was growing on the one tree in our yard. We plotted putting in more bananas, and where we would place the avocado plant that is now growing in a pot. She then shared a little story.

She told me how her husband had gone to check their pear tree and found a man with a stick in their yard picking the pears. Says the pear man to the husband: “Sorry, boss. I didn’t know you were home or I would have come to ask permission. I’m hustling.”cabbages Her husband was speechless. I shared this story with some friends and got back a few better stories from my brethren.

One Trinidadian friend, who lives in the hilly areas told me the following:

Yams that she had planted in her  yard last year were nearly ready for reaping, and some men doing work next door must have been timing her schedule. So one day, after she and her husband were gone all day, they came home to find the men had dug up the yam and then proceeded to roast them. They  had made a small fire in the yard, roasted and ate the yam! Her gardener told her the next day “Dem dig and nyam up you yam, Miss. Word pon di road is dah farrin lady nah need dah yam.” The next week somebody raided the gungo peas bushes which she’d planted, again they told somebody “Dem wanted to taste her hand.” She was accepting, to a degree, saying that there was never a dull day in Jamaica. NEVER! But she was also sad…very p****d, in fact, as she had never planted yams before and tried four heads with the help of her gardener. She had felt proud and had dug  up two, and left two. Now, the s**t heads had eaten them all. But, she was still positive about living in the hills and noting that people were growing all kinds of things…some legal, some less so. Some yards needed no weeding. Some were full of weeds 🙂

Life in Jamaica is full of such things. Many people take taking from others as part of life–almost a right. Property is theft! Roll over Proudhon. Anarchy rules! Out of many…

Hill people live on the edge of properties where they can work as gardeners and do their own small farming. Many have squatted for decades. Many steal water and electricity. Many hustle all the days of their lives. Acting honestly, so that they can be dishonest. Selling flowers to customers and then taking cuttings from the plants to resell. It’s business!

In urban area, a similar culture exists. People want but don’t have means, so take, which means those who have means face higher costs. Every now and then, areas are raided, people are disconnected from illegal water or electricity. A little time passes, the cycle resumes.

One of my trusted older Jamaican heads told me that a common trick in rural areas is to dig up yam, etc. then cover the hill over to make it seem that all is ok. Of course, in short time, the vine will wither and all will be evident. We know that fox and mongoose are quick to come to raid the chicken coop. But, so too are neighbours.

One of today’s papers laments again why Jamaica has such a large food import bill, and wonders about local food production to help fill the gap. I know many people who want to try to grow a little for fun and even to feed themselves. Jamaicans don’t have a lock on this desire, though we have some things going for us in terms in land space and soil quality. Almost everyone I know has something growing, and we share the fruit and vegetables, as much for communal reasons as to ensure we don’t waste. Some urban Barbadian friends of mine have been displaying proudly the fruits of their labours, with crops of tomatoes, okra, sweet potatoes, cassava, lettuce. But, the problem that many thought was just the bane of the life of the rural farmer is hitting those little adventurers.

Last month, I read that the Caribbean Open Institute is now working with the Rural Agricultural Development Authority to utilise technology and open data to help combat Jamaica’s J$5-billion praedial larceny problem. The project is an attempt to develop better information about where thefts are occurring and converting the written police reports into more usable data. My friend’s problem probably wont feature because she wont report it to the police, for various reasons, some related to keeping ‘community spirit’.

The news has been full of stories about the ‘small man’ under the hammer. Kingston is full of young men at road junctions offering to wash car windscreens. Screen Shot 2013-10-25 at 8.59.19 AMThe police want to stop this practice and are threatening to come down hard on this corps. Part of the problem is that some become aggressive and abusive is their offers are rejected. Last week, I declined and was then asked for J$100 to buy rice, with a “You eat off wi food!” I’m not a “you”, so I told my not-to-washer that he didn’t know me and to get out of my face with his ‘r**s’ victimism. My delivery was reminiscent of Shabada and he got the message. But, many people are annoyed at the police for not having dealt with the problem after saying a few years ago that they were going to ‘crack down’ on the practice. Talk is cheap!

A rasta, who is against legalizing ganja, put himself into a hot stew by asking the paper who interviewed him to plaster his picture in the paper. They put him on the front page smoking his chillum pipe full of herbs. Within hours, he’d been raided by the police and arrested. Jamaicans are up in arms against the police, whom it seems can’t find gunmen, rapists, and other criminals so go after ‘soft’ targets like carwashers, weed growers and handcart drivers.

But, as Buju put it, “Is not an easy road“.