We’re in one if those phases of national self assessment. Well, that’s what media coverage suggests. The realization that we have lived the wasted life is now staring us in the face. But, not for the first time. We’re a problem child. We don’t learn our lessons and we kept going back to bad, old behaviour. But, we’ve also been accustomed to getting another chance in the promise that we won’t do it again.

My romantic side has a very clear picture of Jamaica. It’s rooted in the past because I know that things were better then. The vision is of a country that, despite any lack of rid economic progress never let that be the excuse for a way of life that suggested we do not care. When my grandparents raised my parents in homes that had dirt floors, dust was always under control and so was dirt. Everyone made sure of that. Now, if you have 11 children, you have hands aplenty for that. But, you also have creators of mess. The balance is to do your job and make sure you don’t make work for others. Back in the late 1950s, my maternal grandmother’s home in St. Elizabeth had no electricity. It had water, from a well, or from a stream. Children went to fetch water and bring it back for whatever was needed.

In my father’s district in St. Mary, near Highgate, water was abundant from the river. People took their clothes to wash there and bathe and relax. That’s what days were about.

But, neither family had wealth other than my grandmother’s land and animals, and whatever farming brought in. People made clothes and made things last. One of my uncles was a carpenter and he made some furniture for the family. Basically, people tried to be decent in all they did. The idea that people would wantonly throw things on the road side or let garbage accumulate was as crazy as the idea that we would put scorpions in our beds. It wasn’t pride in our surroundings but a clear understanding of a certain level of decency. If others did not have it, they were very few.

In the markets, sellers cleared away. At church, members tidied and cleared away. At school, children kept classrooms tidy and school yards clean. That was then. Now, many clearly for not have that basic understanding.

That ignorance has an origin and was given oxygen by those who also ignored it but saw that as a means to other ends. Dirt and grime all over the place meant work for some, and paying people for such simple menial tasks was a means to show them that someone could offer them what the economy couldn’t–a job, any job.

The connection between squalour and other diseases was not clear to many. Ignorance helped there. Poor education. Worlds full of myths and mischief. These could allow people to think that they had little or no part in their own foe ward spiral. Moreover, it was everywhere, so it was the accepted norm. Clearing it away was the exception, and it was done with equipment that others had. Who could single-handedly clear those swelling gullies. One, one coco full basket didn’t translate into each one do a little. Those who called themselves leaders fed in that.

Dependency was built up and rebuilt. ‘The government…’ was the saviour, often. Besides them were ‘dons’: people who controlled areas with fear and violence and goods and favours, and delivered what people wanted but at a price different from what elected officials demanded.

People who lived in such conditions saw others, with little that looked like dependency, in better homes and trappings of wealth, and clean surroundings, and equated the latter with having money, jobs, and status. So, nice surroundings were not for poor, uneducated people. When they escaped that, things would be better. It had to be true, because everywhere poor people lived thing were squalid and horrible. Therefore… The fallacy was well set. Let’s not disturb it.

So, here we are facing a disease that has its origin not necessarily in dirt and grime, but in the surroundings that are the base of dirt and grime–wanton disregard. Because, by leaving empty cans, bottles, tyres, plastic containers, etc. lying around, we provide habitat for insects to breed. They don’t need homes as large as ours. They don’t need our garbage, because nature allows them to use her resources, anyway. So, if it’s a leaf that provides a bowl for water, that’s enough. But, people have been so helpful in offering more sites. Best of all, people are what the insects want to feed on. So, when they mature, dinner is right there at the table. What a happy coincidence.

Many of the people want to say it’s not so. It came from the sky. It was sent here by foreigners. It’s all made up. Maybe. But, guess what? Keep believing that and watch what happens. Of course, the antidote is prayer.

The living conditions are a building block for the life people live. When they have good nutrition the living conditions don’t hurt as much. If transport were readily available, the living conditions don’t hurt as much. If the weather is usually good, the living conditions… Having a roof over the head is maybe more than many can take for granted. They get used to prizing that above all else. But, as life grinds them down the focus on making things better for themselves moves towards ‘entertainment’, especially if wild and really different from everyday life–escape.

People have been fed escapism rather than something more mundane, yet ultimately more beneficial because it’s self-sustaining. Now, the challenge is to recapture what shouldn’t have escaped. I suspect people have been so used to bring ‘bought’ that they can’t accept this as being a need that gets met without their getting ‘a money’.

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