Stories are always there to be told.
I spend a lot my time trying to figure out what is the story behind what I see; I call it connecting the dots.
I took Knutsford Express buses from Kingston to Ocho Rios on Friday morning and from Montego Bay to Kingston on Saturday afternoon. Along the way, I took the opportunity to look around at the Jamaican landscape, something I always enjoy. But, I also tried to see and understand some of the stories behind what I saw.
I’ll share my sights, randomly, mainly by words, but sometimes with pictures. I did not have in mind any graphic retelling of what I saw, it just came back to me that way during the night. So, bear with me. I will start at the end, because it was also a part of the beginning.
Dr. Damien King shared a graph from The Economist, on Twitter, the morning I set off from Kingston; it showed how Jamaica was poorly (sic) placed as a country with a high propotion of slum dwellings.
Dr. King expanded on the chart by pointing out how the National Housing Trust had failed to provide low income housing as an alternative to slum dwellings.
On my way back into Kingston, I saw for the umpteenth time the shanty dwellings just by the bridge at Washington Boulevard. Everytime I see them from the elevated position of the bus I want to take a picture, but the moment goes by quickly. This time, I was ready.I don’t know if the ‘community’ has a name; if it does, I’m sorry that I haven’t named it. [A friend tells me it’s called ‘New Haven’.]
I see people who live or have reason to be there coming and going, and often using what seems like a makeshift road crossing to get across the busy highway.
I often see people milling around the ‘entrance’ to the community, between two sections of corrugated iron (‘zinc fence’, as we call it in Jamaica). This time, I saw a lady and two men sitting on a large disused gas cylinder, in conversation.
All of that is that say what? Many things:
- Poverty is alive and ‘well’ in Jamaica.
- People have regularized irregular housing in Jamaica, where it is more the norm than the exception. (Dr. King’s point about NHT is well-taken, too, as it has not been a solver of housing needs for the poor.)
- What does it say that ‘seating’ outdoor is made up of things like disused gas cylinders? (I thought back to pictures of times in London during the 1940s when children played on the sites of places that had been bombed, recently.)
- Planning is not a word to use when describing our urban space. (That can have catastrophic results, as we’ve seen in recent flooding.)
- Elected government is noticeable in its absence as an agent of control over what happens in many parts of Jamaica. (I stress ‘elected’ because I suspect the area is ‘governed’.)
There’s much more to say, but you can fill out some of the story with your own observations.
As I headed north on Friday, I looked over at a community near Claremont, St. Ann. I’m often struck by what seems to be a neatly laid out area, with houses that are not made just of seemingly haphazard breeze blocks and sectioned off by zinc fencing. I know nothing of the community other than what I see from the highway, as I drive at speed. (Maybe, next time I will have Google Maps open to see what is shown and if it has a name.)Again, this time I had my phone camera ready to take a picture I have often wanted to capture. Again, I think of stories.
As it preceded in terms of my interest the scene on the Boulevard I was not thinking about the many and varied comparisons I could make:
- Rural life looks better than urban life, at least in terms of available space and sense of amenity.
- Housing quality looks good. (None of the new structures are yet painted, in contrast to other dwellings that can be seen in the background. So, it will be interesting to see the transformation.)
- Had the housing been located there because of proximity to the highway, much as the ‘shanty’ dwellings had sought closeness to the road into Kingston?
- Is this set of ‘quality’ housing planned and properly authorized? (Not everything in Jamaica happens just because people decide it’s their right to do what and where they please?)
- Does the better-looking housing signal the flowing through of ‘prosperity’ and, if so, from where? Who are the financiers and what are their sources? (We know the long history of cash coming from drug dealing and now from scamming. One cannot assume that the sources are illegal; they could be from many places, including remittances.)
I could see no people, so could draw no conclusions about their ‘state’ of life.
When I was being driven through Montego Bay on my way to catch the bus back to town, a window washer approached the car; my friend and I waved him away. He continued to wash the window, then just walked away. ‘That’s a first!’ I said. Back in Kingston yesterday, in Liguanea, a window washer approached my car; I waved him away. He put up a thumb and gestured to me to do the same and touch it, which I did and we bumped fists. “Blessed!” he said, and walked on to another car. I do not for one minute think that window washers have had some national meeting to agree to change their behaviour, but I was struck by the similarly ‘decent’ behaviour, which we know from anecdotes is not often present.
The stories have no beginnings or ends that I truly know; I merely see a snapshot. Perhaps, today, I will read of an ‘event’ in one of the places I have seen and know a little more.