Like a scratched record, Jamaica turns around

Jamaica often reminds me of a vinyl record: no matter how hard you try to keep it in good order, it gets scratched. You put it on the turntable and without fail you get a hiccup in the music, as the needle jumps over the scratch. I’ve had some fun over the past few days listing Jamaican approaches to problem solving. They may seem whimsical, but without fail, we can see them in action daily. We are no homogenous nation, and common sense has to wait its turn to get space in our culture.

Over the past few days we got treated to more of the snap me, but in new blouses. A nasty bush fire took hold of a section of Jacks Hill, in St. Andrews, just outside Kingston proper. Most people could see the hill ablaze from their homes, and if not seen, then the ash and smoke came down the hills as the breeze picked up on Sunday afternoon.

Fire blazing on Jacks Hill (courtesy of Daily Observer)
Fire blazing on Jacks Hill (courtesy of Daily Observer)

I feel sorry for some administrations, like OPDEM, who have good intentions but have bitten by the Jamaican bureaucratic version of the chikungunya virus, which seems to involve much foot-in-mouth. They urge people to not light open fires, even reminding people that it’s illegal. “Who tell dem fi seh dat?” as Jamaicans would ask. Illegal? Let’s go do it, is the usual response. But, while OPDEM was trying hard, we have the fool-fool responses of other agencies. We heard the dry-mouth Drought Committee yesterday tell us that the Fire Department can call on the Rapid Response Unit for help to fight fires says drought committee…the only problem is only 32 trucks out of 100 work. Well, that rapidly became a nonresponse. It was just about a year ago that life was breathed back into the the Unit, which has reportedly been ‘shelled’ by the previous government.

On Sunday evening, I’d heard that helicopters were due to be dropping water on the fire. Most people know that the Mona Reservoir, closest to the fire, is the source that would be used usually, but it’s only about 25 percent full at the moment, so water was coming from the sea, and that takes longer. Of course, some Jamaican cynics were quick to be critical that the little water in the dam was being used. Well, we should not listen too much to mad people.

Yesterday, a typical Jamaican thing happened. News reports at midday indicated that the fire was under control and that investigations were underway to find out how it had started. Words are important and ‘under control’ and ‘sections’ can mean wide spectrum of things. Well, friends who live near the fire were quick to use social media to indicate that the fire was still blazing, and to boot note that sections of uptown Kingston were still awash with water gushing out of burst mains for the n-th day. Such is our life. Word last night was that the fire was mostly calmed but still being monitored carefully. Crops, one house, and lots of vegetation have gone. Nature is good at recovering from such trauma, but humans have their way of putting undue stress on nature. Another friend mentioned how she and her family had been caught in a runaway bush fire near Fern Gully while driving home on Sunday afternoon. 

We have old ways that we let go of with much reluctance. My daddy did it this way, and his daddy did so before him and… But, it’s a crazy thing to do. Yet, we can drive along many stretches of road during these drought-ridden days and see little pires of smoke coming out of some hill. As one official tried to make clear, the only thing to set alight these days in a stove. 

Just our luck that we got three new fire trucks, which can pump water while being driven, but the fire was in an area where trucks couldn’t reach: some local terrain is just not for wheels. Just this past week, we learned that a fire truck donated by Hartford City, Connecticut, six years ago, is still parked in Portmore–enjoying the view of the ocean, no doubt. The official reasons given for not using the truck are a litany of the kind of covering of the derrière that goes for management in this little island. It could have been that the wheels were too round. 😛

Still, kudos to the Jamaica Defence Force and the Fire Department for near non-stop work for 24 hours, and also to the administrators who try to get it right. 

The investigation may be like many others, destined to be forgotten in a few hours. Will the media get its teeth into following up? Maybe, but let’s not hold our breath. A sex ‘scandal’ may just crop up and take away their attention 🙂

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)