Jamaica is known as the land of many things. In our most romantic moments, we talk about the land of wood and water. If I were to be in a cynical mood–and it does take me, sometimes–I might say that it’s the land of ‘would’ and ‘wait here’, as in ‘Wait here, would you, I’ll go check in the back…” Living in Kingston, I also know it as the land of wood clogging up the water in the gullies.
We love studies, especially expensive ones done by foreign consultants who are very expensive. We love them even more when they tell us things that locals have known for years, but did not have written for them in glossy, bound reports. Last week, Jamaica started down the road of another of its characteristics–the land of nine-day wonders. People got excited and upset about the correlations in a study of crime and education. Criminals went to schools (admittedly, many of them did badly there), so schools must be remedied. I bet all of them went to the bathroom too, so I hope no one will come to our houses and rip out our toilets. Hot on its heels, I hear that a number of other studies are likely to be launched in recent weeks.
One study of a stratified sample of prison inmates shows that the last meal most (67 percent) of them ate was a beef patty. Many others (25 percent) had eaten chicken foot soup; while the rest had eaten a variety of other things. The correlation coefficient was over 95 percent and the margin of error was just 2 percent–whatever all of that means. The government will now be looking to deal with the issue of what breeds criminals by regulating what patty shops sell. These will be ‘refurbished’ so that only soy or callaloo patties are sold, knowing that the consumption of red meat is related to an upsuge of anger (not forgetting its harmful health effects in terms of heart disease). So, in one bite the government will eradicate crime and improve national health. Chicken patties will soon be for the chopping block, too, as they have been suspected of being behind the spread of salmonella outbreaks. Three cheers for the government!
Jamaica has a place named the ‘Land of look behind‘. This could easily have become the nation’s capital, not least because it fits well the people’s real nature of being ‘difficult and inhospitable’. That is a finding in the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, so it’s almost as good as if it were from Wikipedia. I side with that interpretation, because it helps me understand why it is that some commentators marvel at what Jamaicans do to make it through each day.
Jamaicans are nothing if not creative about the obvious. Yesterday’s papers included a few articles about extortion. The kind of thing that was featured was how people are offering ‘parking’ near the US Embassy in Kingston for the many applicants who go there trying to get visas. Jamaica’s not like the USA or UK, where parking illegally will get your car clamped; it may be towed, occasionally. But, people like to park cars where they think it’s convenient–usually, just for them, despite obvious inconvenience to others. In rural areas, parking on blind corners, or the crest of a hill, are common tricks. In town, parking on sidewalks or driveways, or alleys is common. Good parking means good blocking of someone else, and if it means double parking then that’s double fun.
I digress. Some youths take people’s money, park their cars, sometimes wash them for another fee, make sure the cars are safe for the persons while they spend a few hours with Auntie Samantha hoping to get a pass to the Promised Land. But, this piece of entrepreneurship is scorned. Jamaicans call it ‘hustling’ or ‘exaction’. It seems, in good look-behind fashion, that we’d prefer if the young people sat on street corners, smoking and drinking and just being good and idle–having been prepared for that by schools (we know). We’ve 40 percent unemployment amongst 16-24 year olds, so let’s get that figure up above 50 percent. We can do it!
Of course, we don’t have the snazzy parking lots that festoon many American cities, where people can park their cars, have them broken into, be mugged or molested, or engage in illicit information exchanges under cover of darkness. We have that to look forward to. Of course, because the US Embassy offers no parking and nowhere in the area was designated as public parking for the many applicants, we’d prefer it if people drove around for many minutes, searching for parking, missing their appoitments, getting visa rejections, and having to go through the process again after the lapse of some months. Progress is only hard if you try to make it.
Jamaica is also the land of “In God we trust”. It must be so. Last week, we read about police ‘death squads’. Yesterday, I read that 60 percent of those arrested for corruption are police officers. How else could I go forward with the exhortation I saw in the press to “Help Cops End Extortion“? Look, if the love of statistical analysis has taught us nothing, we should be able to understand the spiral unlogic of asking us to help the police-crooks to be uncrooked. As many Jamaicans suspect, the ‘brains’ behind many schemes happen to be people who are supposed to be upholders of the law. Would you sit down with a crocodile and share a plate of grilled ribs?