Every journey begins with a single step, but our feet are stuck in cement

Driving on Jamaica’s roads is often a good opportunity to observe the simple nature of the country and wonder at the simplicity of solutions that seemingly stare us in the face. Over the past weekend, I was on the roads and I noticed this little truth all the time. Jamaica has lots of little things that are wrong, but having been left neglected they become big and almost intractable problems, almost like a decaying tooth when one notices a small cavity, leaving it untreated and then having a serious abcess or hole or gum disease. If ever an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure, it’s in Jamaica. Today’s Jamaica Gleaner touched on this in the context of a leader article entitled government by squalor. Without going deep into my memory or searching high and low, I just noted aspects of this that have been brought to public attention in the past few days. I will list them.

Since last week, when urban fares were raised, JUTC has been bombarding those eligible for concessionary fares (students and pensioners) to claim their ‘Smart cards’ in the move to cashless fare collection; for the elderly, the cards have to be bought, for students they are free.Without the cards, these passengers would have to pay the full adult fare. The student take-up was weak, ahead of schools reopening today. JUTC offered an amnesty today, so that students could ride free, but only to go to get the cards. Pensioners, meanwhile, tried to get cards over the weekend, and faced long lines and hours of delays. But, what do we learn? JUTC was unprepared for the demands for the cards! By early afternoon today, JUTC was begging commuters to be patient as it rolls out the cards. I say to my 10 year-old “Do not be surprised by the obvious.” JUTC get your act together! You want good take-up of these cards? Act smarter, please!

Look left. We have been going through an extended drought for most of the year. Reservoirs are at critically low levels. Over the past few weeks, we have had some heavy rainfall, which has begun to make a small dent on these low levels. But, guess what? Like the child who eats in his bedroom and does not pick up the unfinished food from under the bed, the room is soon riddled with rodents, ants and roaches. Watch here, now. The National Water Company tells us that ‘Heavy rains in recent days have impacted two major supply systems…Great River and Martha Brae treatment plants have been blocked, due to increased deposits of mud, silt and debris’. Are these people serious? Put this in the context of plans announced a few weeks ago to desilt Hermitage Dam in St. Thomas, which would involve removing 400 truck loads of sand.

JUTC again: A driver has just been awarded a claim for J$1 million for alleged injuries to his back after the bus he was driving in a lay-by fell into a pothole, and blaming the injury on a defective driver’s seat. The potholes? The seat? Which to fix? Do neither? We all suffer the costs. Ring up some more fare increase to cover the claim.

We have leadership deficits in many areas of public administration. Don’t argue the point, it shows like a long petticoat. We have performance deficits in many areas of public administration. Don’t argue the point, it shows like an egg stain on a blouse. Why is the road that runs beside a deep gorge riddled with broken protective guard walls throughout most of its length? I mean the road taking traffic to and from Bog Walk over Flat Bridge. Why has someone not just missed the curve and found a hole in the wall and tumbled to their watery grave? Luck, is all. Same goes for many stretches of rural road. Claim lack of funds, as much as you want. When money is there it’s not used effectively. 

Chapelton road. Mind the gap!
Chapelton road. Mind the gap!

A good administration of roads would have these black spots highlighted and fixed as soon as possible. But, they have stood there so long, we look for them as landmarks.

Most public repairs in Jamaica will now need major projects to correct, in an environment where maintenance funds are scarce. What happened in the past? Whatever vision public officials had did not factor in the need for timely and orderly maintenance. Now, we cry poverty. Like farmers not knowing how to save over-abundant harvests for those times when famine will strike, we are naked and standing wondering where are our clothes. 

Politicians have been at fault, but more so a population that has never called them to account. NEVER! Curry goat politics? Hand out politics? Give me a placard to wave and some money for a drink politics.

Jamaica does not have a process in place to change to mentality of public officials. Sadly, public sector reform is not geared to addressing the thinking that doing small things well, all the time, adds up to doing big things well, and often without the need to ever do big things. 

People who see Jamaica as anything other than a failed state need to marshall the evidence. Whatever the country has that is good and beautiful cannot offset the incompetence that is rife in how it manages its affairs. So, let’s not confuse things. Jamaica is truly paradise lost.

 

Jamaica is passing impressions

I drove back to Kingston from Montego Bay on Sunday evening.

 

The country laid down before me, and the countryside rolled passed me, as waning sunlight gave way to dark. Streaky clouds covered the last of the light, and then it was night. My eyes could tell me where I was. So could my nose. Heavy smoke filled the air, as burning bushes were licked by more flames. Engine fumes hit my nose as a van struggled to fill the air with heavy black smoke. I just let him roll, as I rolled up the windows. 

Roadside walkers carrying their football boots…

Young couples walking hand in hand on the dark country road…

Young biker riding his ‘stallion’ at breakneck speed with no lights, his reflectors shine as my car passes by…He should be home…He should be getting ready for school. Country boy.

Discordant singing from a late night church service, and tambourines clinking…

Wooden stalls with hanging fruit, lit by single light bulbs…

Remember the days when only candles and wick lamps gave light at night?

Night time racers on their four wheels…

Night time racer on his two wheels…the bright one eye came behind me in a flash and was gone…Has he gone to meet his maker? So fast did he pass me, I believed that Heaven’s door was just closing…

I did not see or hear the car that crashed and took away a child’s life.

I did not hear the screams of the man who was chopped to death.

I only needed to drive on another road and my impressions would have been so different.

I drove over Flat Bridge: its 20 metres a place of fear for some…no rail to stop the car tumbling into the river. Only slowness stops a disaster…so simple…

Hundreds of people gathered in a plaza…Noises…clapping. A dance on Sunday night? Young people, these days…

Late night Sunday dinner, that was meant to be Sunday lunch. But, you know our people and time? I saw chicken and more, left on a tray. Someone had  had a nice time.

Coffee and bread pudding. Hot peppermint tea. Some apple pie? More, please.

“Are your bags packed? Can we leave for home?”

“I hardly got up,”

An American lady tries to tell me what it means to kiss my teeth. I kiss my teeth.