How can we not be mental slaves? 52 years and counting

On this auspicious day in Jamaican history, we call on the Auspices to give us inspiration. Strange though it may seem, today’s Daily Observer editorial grabbed some of my morning walk thoughts, so read their take on our Independence, including our schizoid nature, which had been running through my head.

That tendency towards schizophrenia is a national condition. I like the Wikipedia definition: mental disorder often characterized by abnormal social behavior and failure to recognize what is real. Common symptoms include false beliefs, unclear or confused thinking, auditory hallucinations, reduced social engagement and emotional expression, and inactivity.

With that framework in mind, let me reconfigure my thoughts. Jamaicans are not just schizoid, but also almost like the perfect economist: they are always looking from one hand to the other hand. We are not quite the perfect blend that was the brilliant economist, John Nash, but give us time:

Give a Jamaican a seemingly good situation and within moments he or she is likely to start seeing the bad side. Failing that, he or she is likely to start the process of spoiling. Truth is, though, we often have good reason for this skepticism. Look at a major event yesterday.

Yesterday, a long-awaited 19 km stretch of road was opened, officially, between Linstead and Moneague, by-passing a notorious potential hilly bottleneck at Mount Rosser, where heavy trucks slow down travel or block the road with accidents.

Being who we are, pomp and ceremony were part of the events. Word soon came out that a government MP for the area had been ‘sent away’ by the PM for inappropriate dress (jeans and polo shirt, we heard). Whooiiii! We get a chance to laud the road for a few minutes, then get on with the business of lambasting our politicians–one of our favourite sports.

Why the pomp? Isn’t the country nearly broke? What foolishness about a dress code for such an event. (The media house who started that story later retracted it…more lambasting due about our shoddy media standards.)

20140806-083427-30867093.jpg
If our flag had red in it, I would understand…

The PM–a consummate politician–tried to make much of the moment.20140806-082302-30182029.jpgShe talked about the toll-free month of use being an Independence gift to the people. What? Aren’t we in hock to the Chinese Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC)? I read that we will be paying cash and giving 1200 acres of land adjacent to the by-pass to CHEC. As befits Jamaica, the details of the financial arrangement come clearer at the end of the process: press reports indicate the full route, which has two more sections to be built by 2016, will cost US$730 million, but CHEC will reimburse Jamaica for US$120 million paid to the previous French developers who couldn’t figure our how to stop the road sinking….What gift? When the tolls kick in next month, the gift will be a distant memory for those who hadn’t driven till then. What nonsense! It’s deferred payment. But, on the one hand, our politicians are quick to “feel” the people’s pain, but also quick to take credit for any gains. It won’t be lost on Jamaicans that the event’s supporting cast was dressed like Chinese ladies IN RED, NOT IN JAMAICAN COLOURS. Gift? Our Indepenence. Dress code? Don’t make my blood boil.

We hear the PM urging investors to take advantage of the opportunities the new road presents. We hear the people of Faith’s Pen may also get relocated to a rest stop so that the loss of traffic through Mount Rosser won’t cripple their economic outlook.

So, while some will try to get us to see the upsides of our Indpendnce, it’s not hard to believe that we’ve merely traded the slave manacles for colonial servitude for another form of economic bondage. I think I tend to be more positive in face of certain truths than many Jamaicans. But, I’m also not a blithering idiot. Yes, we will roll out renditions of songs celebrating our nationhood.

But, we have plenty of reasons to think like that archetypical economist. So much, yet so little. We are also clearly in our strait jackets, banging our heads against walls, and crying “Nurse!”

Happy Independence!

Man, you know what I’m worth? ‘Everyone haffi eat a food’

I wonder if Jamaica has something about its economic structure that would repay further study. Is it worth looking more closely at its forms of homo economicus?

Homo economicus
Homo economicus

To the extent that we understand what value means, it is clear that certain bodies of Jamaican economic life understand how to put value on what they do. Everything has a price, I learned in undergraduate economics. One breed of economic man in Jamaica makes sure you know it, as far as services go: the golf caddy. I learnt this a few months ago. Now, I am seeing it in wider context.

The Jamaican caddy usually works as a self-employed person.

Caddy watching attentively. Following the money?
Caddy watching attentively. Following the money?

He or she always works with cash transactions. He or she will do many things for the golfer. He or she will expect (not demand) payment for all the he/she does. Example: bag carrying is offered at a basic fee–let’s call that J$2000. That service covers cleaning clubs, finding balls, offering advice on choice of clubs, offering advice on tendency of ball on putting greens. That’s a good price for many important parts of a golfer’s game. However, the caddy may have to do more.

He or she may need to run or walk back to retrieve club covers for his/her employer of the day. It seems that this is included in the basic price.

The caddy, however, expects additional payment if any of the services are offered and taken by players other than the prime employer. I have learned to avoid all contact with a caddy whom I have not employed. “Boss, you owe me a 10 bills,” does not need to come near my ear.

A friend and I played a round yesterday afternoon; she’d not played in a while-over a year, I think. We had a great time. At some stage, she forgot a club. The group playing behind us came by and indicated that one of the caddies had found her club. It was returned to the lady. She was happy, as she was just in need of the particular club. She went off to play her shot. “Mr. Dennis, is usually a drink fi di caddy fi fin’ a club,” a caddy I knew whispered in my ear. I told him I would mention it to the lady.

Later in our round another caddy came up to me and said “Barssy! A fi yu club dis? Yu kno’ some o’ dem wudda kup tek it an’ keep it,” I took the club. I understood the comment, and let the man have J$100. (I’m not sure what he drinks, but in Jamaica that’s enough for a hefty snifter or a beer.)

We finished our round and I mentioned to my lady friend what I’d been told before. She was visibly taken aback. “In Canada, people would just return a club and that would be it,” she said. I took people to mean other golfers, and that would be my expectation, too. But, amateur golfers are not playing to get paid. She went in search of the caddy, and funnily he was already in search of her. They met. They spoke. She paid. Happy couple.

Jamaica is full of people who know how to extract payment for many things for which no payment is made in other countries, or for which payment is regulated in other ways in other countries. Sometimes, we see that as extortion. Sometimes, we see it as ‘making a living’. Kind words don’t fill hungry bellies.

The good, the bad, and the ugly

I have a strong dislike for things that seem easy to fix but go unattended. Not that I’m up and down ladders doing jobs. My dislike focuses on social and economic problems. In the same vein, I look happily on examples of ‘jobs well done’.

I’m going to try to keep my eyes and ears tuned keenly so that I can share examples that fit these ‘bad’ and ‘good’ labels. But I also want to add a category for what I think is just despicable, or ‘ugly’–physically, tonally, morally, I’m open to being appalled.

Each week, on Sundays, I will share my catalogue. That’s my day for the calmest reflections, so my bile from earlier in the week should get tempered.

I was in Miami part of this week, and you’d think that city of excess ought to feature. Let’s see.

The good:
A man named Horace Prince, who is a staff member at the Edna Manley College of the Visual Arts and MC-ed the summer camp show. The man was FUNNY, maybe the best stand-up comic not doing that for a living. I felt for my in-laws, who couldn’t keep up with the rapid-fire patois. Added to his routine was the strong and positive messages he gave all the performers.

An honorable mention goes to the official at Miami International Airport, who promptly responded to my Twitter comments about poor signs. Our last exchange yesterday was around midnight and he was clearly doing his job on personal time. Trust me on that.

The bad:
In the realm of justice, the cake goes to the US legal system and the seeming travesty that was the trial and verdict given on George Zimmerman. The pain was worsened this week by the juror who voted to acquit but then stated she thought he “got away with murder”.

The 15 year-old who was in charge of selling tickets to me but did not know how much change to give from J$1000 and selling 3 tickets at J$250 each. Bad for the education system, whichever it was.

Fountainebleau hotel in Miami Beach may be THE place at night but it gets a prize for some of the poorest front desk service I’ve ever seen. Too much going on and slow seemed to be the only gear. After checking out from my room why would I want to join a line of over 30 people to get a copy of my bill. I loved the ‘light bulb’ moment when my wife suggested having an email option on the TV check out. Priceless. I suggest to a manager that they do some serious time and motion studies.

The ugly:
The ugliest was the story about a young man in St. James who was chopped and stabbed to death after party goers discovered he was cross-dressing. Jamaica’s homophobia reaches a new milestone.

The very ugly has to be the latest sexting scandal unleashed on himself by Anthony Weiner. I really couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss about what does or says as a politician, but as someone who claims to want the public’s trust I ask myself “What is he thinking?”

An honorable mention goes to Jamaican MP, Dayton Campbell, for his unflattering comments about a Miss Jamaica World contestant. Good that he apologized quickly afterwards, but check yourself next time the finger reaches for ‘send’.

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