Everyone in Jamaica is a ‘sufferer’. Life in Jamaica is always hard. The music business lets us know this. Songs about how ‘they’ are downpressing ‘us’ have been in vogue for decades. I guess that it’s not really the done thing to sing a song that goes something like:
“My life is so sweet,
On my little street,
Where all that I do is just drink and eat
Chicken, beef and all kinds of meat…”
Official data show that Jamaica is not riddled with abject poverty, taking that as people living on less that US$ 1.25 a day. Jamaica has about 17 percent of its population below that level. Jamaica ranks a decent 117th out of 157 countries on that scale. Taiwan has the least (just over 1 percent), while Chad, Haiti and Liberia have the most (each at 80 percent).
However, one sees so many people struggling that the poverty line indicators don’t really tell much of a story. Yesterday, I was in a market when a young man walked in and tried to buy some vegetables.
Man: “Sell mi wun poun a yam, Mummi!”
Vendor: “Dis wun poun an half. Hundred twenty dolla.” She shows him the piece that has been cut from the foot of yam.
Man: “Mi cyan afford dat. Is poun mi want…” He then goes on about how his budget cant stretch to make it easy for him to buy more than a pound of yam. After he’s bought the salt fish to go with it, he’ll be broke.
I wrote previously that people always seem to be hustling. It’s become a sort of second nature or knee jerk reaction. Something like:
“What’s the weather like today?”
“Man, how you can talk about weather when I can’t rub two red cents together. You know times hard. You can help me with a small something?”
But, the reality is that we can’t take for granted that life is hard for a lot of people. On a daily basis I see things that tell me that people are pushing their hardest with the slimmest of means, or trying to make the most of what little they have. Some random examples since the weekend:
Taxi drivers washing their cars in gullies. This makes perfect sense. The rain water is generally clean and free flowing, and free.
People taking baths by standpipes. I was the lucky witness to a man taking his full bath in front of me and a lady friend on Sunday. He washed thoroughly and then proceeded to put on his two pairs of dry underpants and went on his daily way, I imagine. Yes. he wore nothing but boxer shorts.
I cite those two instances because one was by someone who to all intents and purposes was ‘doing normal things’ being a taxi driver. The other instance involved someone whom we could regard as marginalized from society, judging by his unconventional practices.
But, that ‘kiss my teeth’ attitude is also abundant. The fish lady I met in the market yesterday clearly wanted to sell whatever made money. Her speciality is fish, but her business card–I kid you not– shows that she sells toilet paper, too. Whatever the people need.
When the read the reports of how jet ski operators had their vehicles confiscated by police over the weekend, I can’t help but think that some officials really don’t see that poor life is all around and the few opportunities people have to make some money and feed and clothes themselves and family are slim and dwindling.