Jamaica is little stories.

If you just look at people each day, you see enough of what is Jamaica. That picture is very different to the picture I have seen in other Caribbean islands. It’s also vastly different from the picture one sees in most developed countries. Here are a few observations.

Morning time shows us how many people start their days. Adults walk young children to school. The people I see are always holding on proudly to their charges. Their faces do not exude hopelessness. Now, I accept that the impression I have as I pass people is not necessarily accurate reflections of reality. I don’t know their financial or social realities. But, the visual image is important, given that the future for those children is uncertain and lacking hope. Yet,…

During the day, I see people moving around. The common narrative is that Jamaicans are not law-abiding. Yet, most daily activity is not law-breaking. We are very loose with the application of rules, so it’s no surprise to see people doing things that reflect this looseness. For example, we have vendors where no vending should occur; yet, most of us benefit enormously from their presence. If some of the rules were to be applied, I argue that society would lose.

However, we want to feel comfortable with the idea that a certain honest and obedient strain exists in the society. Yet, past practices make us cynical when we see police stationed with radar guns or making ‘routine’ traffic stops. We see officers leaning on car windows and it’s a short leap to think that they are ‘leaning on’ the driver for a little ‘lunch money’.

These are aspects of how our society has developed. We get public officials who compromise on integrity to make more from their roles than the stated salary. They may not be in desperate financial straits, but they have less than they feel they need. Nurses, teachers, civil servants are often in similar situations. They face costs that rise as they try to raise their families; try to do their best; try to stay hopeful.

This morning I saw how some try to cope. A man in his wheelchair was trying to come up a hill in a residential area. I could see him in the distance…holding on to a motorcycle ahead of him. 😳 I asked the wheelchair rider if this was his usual ride. He said he just took the opportunity, sometimes. He then proceeded to ask me if I needed any work done. We have many looking to work, but too few jobs that offer pay. A constant search with a result that’s clear.

We’ve developed an economy that offers the mirage of economic hope. This week, the IMF is hosting a conference in Jamaica on growth. I’m not going to look at what its agenda is. Most countries need faster growth to deal with the current stock of unemployed people. Jamaica has had four decades of virtually no growth. I hear talk of our needing 4-7 percent growth to deal with our unemployment and take the country onto a much higher level of development. If wishes were horses…

Many Jamaicans live on the brink. If I were to believe Mr. Farrakhan, then ‘independence’ is what we need. Three million people, free to do what? Yes, we could feed ourselves, but that would suggest our focus needs to be on agriculture. That’s never been a recipe for growth, in itself. We could thumb our noses at the Queen and she could thumb hers back at us. Yah boo! Big deal. Jamaica has acted with as much independence as many countries of its size, in the presence of neighbours, who are much bigger and wealthier. We need to be free to do what? We can stop depending on others and be what?

Maybe, like Sekou Touré said, “We prefer poverty in liberty to riches in slavery,” as he told France, Guinea’s colonial masters, when he accepted the offer of independence. But under his own long rule many liberties were lost. Guinea is still struggling to recover from that.

Maybe, Jamaica has fallen into that mode, but not willingly, with eyes wide open.