Many people take the turning of the calendar from one year to another as a time when they should make all kinds of promises. The change from 2019 to 2020 has many taking this practice to another level–seen every 10 years–of celebrating a new decade. Well, let’s squash that straight away: a decade is a span of 10 years, so every year is the start of a new decade. Spoiler! Sorry!
So, let me move into what I want to see in the new year, and it’s in the form of new “Yeh!”, as in things that I want to be much better than before and hope to have more of in my life. I am not going to open up about my personal emotional wants, however, so if you were looking for a bit of titillation, time to change channels.
I live in the highly dysfunctional country of Jamaica, which I love like cooked food, as we say there, so my first ‘yeh’ would be to simply see and experience less of that dysfunction. What would that mean?
- Sidewalks on most roads: I am honestly appalled that a country with so much foot traffic finds it acceptable that people have to manoeuver at best concrete paths that are uneven and incomplete, and at worst, just non-existent. How can we lament road traffic deaths and at the same time ignore the risks to most pedestrians are subjected to across the country?
- Events with politicians who arrive on time, make short speeches and tell us things honestly and from their hearts. Wow! That’s a lot to hope for in one year, so let me just hope for the first. However, as a society, we pay too little attention to timeliness and the negative impact that has on so many things and so many people. If we opine about wanting to grow, progress and do better, then it could start at few better places than putting the right value on time and the cost it imposes when it is wasted. I’m sorry to say that many of our politicians almost make a sport out of not being on time. As many notice, they are often put to shame by foreign diplomats and business people who are both timely and apologetic if they are not. Being ‘fashionably late‘ is one of those elements of ‘brand Jamaica’ we should drop like a hot potato.
- Days and nights when I do not feel that I am a prisoner in my own home, not least because my windows have bars on them and my doorways are reinforced by grills. I’m not one who takes politicians at their word most of the time, but I understand their need to give hope to their constituents, so when the current PM stated during the 2016 election campaign that we would be able to “sleep with our doors open” under a JLP government, I know many took him at his word in terms of the safer world over which he would preside. When he came back early last year (2018) with assurances that he meant this, the palpable descent into political paranoia was a marker, and when that was followed byhttps://twitter.com/AndrewHolnessJM/status/991443356843724805?s=20
I didn’t know what to think. To me ‘aspirational’ is politicode speak for ‘another unfulfilled promise’, which has also been taped to the much heralded growth ‘objective’ aka #5in4 (5% GDP growth within 4 years).
- Roads that are not potholed like the surface of the Moon, and roads that collapse soon after they are built. Why should a country’s taxpayers endorse such shoddiness and finance such nonsense year after year and no one be made accountable? When Michael Lee-Chin suggested dismissing permanent secretaries for failing as ‘CEOs’, I hope his mind included any public sector agency (and for completeness, seeing the private sector act as it should for poor management).
- More accountability across the board. If the many complaints are true–and I have no reason to disbelieve them, we need to haul people over the coals for their shoddy and persist lack of control and oversight over their basic functions. In that box, I will put our National Solid Waste Management Authority (garbage collection), National Works Agency (road construction and maintenance), National Water Company (public water supply) and Jamaica Public Service Company (electricity supply). These have in common a persistent inability of deliver on their core activities. That private sector shareholders have similar woes is also appalling, and the name of National Commercial Bank ranks high (woeful system upgrade that left many still without the banking services they expect nearly 6 months after the ‘upgrade’ was made); the following shows that reality through October:
Our mobile phone companies seem to have a terrible reputation amongst their customers, with dropped calls, intermittent Internet access, and high charges being amongst frequent complaints made to the Office of Utilities Regulation.
- Squatter settlements that have robbed many of our urban areas of any sense of cohesion and truly exemplify a perverse interpretation of our national motto, ‘out of many, one people’. Like so many problems in Jamaica, these persist because they were not nipped in the bud, or more cynically, they served the political purposes of a few to the social detriment of the many, remembering that the practice of wide-scale land-capture dates back to emancipation times in the mid-19th century.
My second ‘yeh’ would be to enjoy more of the things that Jamaica offers and Jamaicans do that are really better than in most other places. My daughter, who is now away at school, helped me focus on these:
- Our food. Whenever people meet Jamaican food most times the reaction is ‘Where has this been all my life?’; the flavours are amazing and the simple settings in which it is often served adds to that. It’s what many of us yearn for when we are abroad. When I bucked up on this lovely ‘pop-up’ restaurant in Portland, during a recent visit there, it was both unbelievable and so ‘very Jamaican’. Thank you, Belinda! Jamaica is full of places like this, and we need to cherish them and let many experience them, as well as our flourishing brand of food presented in lavish ways, sometimes seen in restaurants and events. If ‘brand Jamaica’ means something then the good of that has to include our cuisine.
- Our landscape, or as my kid says “all of the countryside, outside Kingston”. We’re blessed with some breathtaking nature in our midst. More people are finding this as they try to escape the pressures of urban life, taking hikes, or a few days’ break, showing it off to visitors, or whatever. I love our mountains, and am lucky enough to get to be there often, but I also love our waterways. So, I leave you with some scenes from a rafting visit to the Rio Grande on a recent lazy afternoon.
- Our people, who display the ‘sparkle’ that is in many a true Jamaica. Most of us do well to survive a day in Jamaica without going crazy, yet within that we meet people all the time who are just warm and kind and considerate. In my most optimistic moments, I believe that these people far outnumber those who are cold, mean, and inconsiderate. Sadly, more of the good people might have withdrawn as things like crime has set fear higher in their minds and they cannot beat that back unless they are either alone or with their loved ones–not a bad thing, in a way, but also a bad thing because good things in life are better if shared.
- Qualitative signs that some are committed to improving the country. I’m lucky to have friends who do so much to show off the better side of Jamaica. I love Thalia Lyn and Island Grill. I adore Jean Lowrie-Chin and what she tries to do through ProComm and the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons. I admire those who are rebuilding downtown Kingston through ‘Kingston Creative’, which is showing the power to transform space through an appreciation of its aesthetics.
Much still needs to be done to rebuild the community and reshape the economic base of downtown Kingston, but it’s the kind of change that many need to see to wash away the many negatives that beat us each day.
I could add in this vein some of the new architectural developments that seem well-thought out and designed, such as the AC Hotel and certain residential developments, which compete for attention amidst some really poor construction projects and the all-too-present squatter developments.