I’m lucky that I get to travel often, whether on the island, or less frequently off it. Perspective is always important and by seeing your usual surroundings from a physical or temporal distance one can get a better gauge of what really matters.
It’s ironic that a place to which many Jamaicans seek to flock is also a place whose culture and general direction is really far from ours. I say that, in part of the inevitable Jamaican reactions to the Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 States. One if the papers was quick to show the perceived threat that lurks on our shores.
In coming days, I’ll be without our local soap opera that is the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry, where, amongst other things, we are trying to find out who killed 70 plus black citizens, and if alleged abuses by security forces were likely to have taken place. But, I’ll be in the land where it seems that black people are being killed by law-enforcement agents almost on a daily basis, or at what seems like an alarming rate and for apparently trivial reasons.
I’m always fascinated by what I see of tourists when I fly in and out of Jamaica. I see plenty of Jamaicans heading north to the Land of Uncle Sam, whether as visitors or returning to where they now live. Our duty-free stores do a roaring trade, judging by the number of boxes of rum that get loaded into overhead bins in flights.
For all that many like to lament how Jamaicans don’t follow rules, if you pay attention, you’ll see that Americans are pretty good rule breakers. [data on red light running]. If there’s a difference it’s in how the systems deal with rule breaking. Take traffic violations. I know that if one gets get caught speeding, chances are that the car owner will have a fine notice slapped on the car, or will receive by mail a picture of the transgression with a summons. If the fine isn’t paid a series of greater penalties start to kick in, that may lead to higher fines and the licence of the vehicle owner being suspended.
The U.S. has serious problems with red light running. During 2007-11, an average of 63 people died each month in red light crashes. But, the number of crashes decreased between 2007 and 2011 as red light cameras increased by 135 percent. That’s to say that Americans could not be relied on to change behaviour and obey red light WITHOUT measures that literally caught them in the act.
One of the main differences between countries is their ability to act against, as opposed to talk about, their problems. Jamaica falls squarely I the latter category, as evidenced by a raft of proposals whenever public outrage surfaces. Look back over the years and you see a scary repetition of problems identified and actions proposed, with little action taken. This year, again, Jamaica reaps that harvest. Less rain than expected. Less water in reservoirs. Repeated water problems.
I spent a lovely day out at Prospect, St. Mary, last Friday. The day’s activities went on longer than scheduled–no problem, when you’re having fun. As we were leaving, near 7pm, my wife mentioned that the 100 meters final was due to be run at 9:15. We hoped we’d be home in time. But, as we neared home, the dust that caked our bodies reminded us of a bigger issue at 9pm. Our water pressure would be much reduced, to deal with the latest shortage. As we got home, my daughter and I ran upstairs and checked a shower: barely a dribble. We’d planned for it, though. The two of us jumped into the pool that’s in our yard. The water was warm, and it was filled with ash from another fire that had ranged in the hills the day before. We were clean enough. We dried quickly and got to see both Shelly-Ann and Asafa win their national titles. My wife, never one to take others’ opinions, went upstairs and turned on the shower. A drip formed on the shower head, but never got big enough to fall.
In that little episode, we lived through decades of inaction.
Fast forward. The U.S. is no paradise, but it has a reputation for action–sometimes, too fast and too much, but give me some of that.
What often attracts and excites people about a place is its underlying character. The U.S. has gained a reputation for a place that embraces change and thrives on giving opportunities. I’m not going into a nuanced discussion of that, now. It’s full of things that symbolize that, including the coffee shop where I’m sitting.
Jamaica has its laid-back, ‘no problem’, image. The trouble is we often want to become like the U.S. but really can’t get up and do what that demands.