Scenes from a day out: Mandeville deals with drought and recession

I wish I did not have to help run a set of errands when I visited Mandeville yesterday, as that would have allowed more exploring with questions than just my eyes. I try to take things in quickly.

The first thing I noticed, as usual, was the coolness. Leaving Kingston at 9am, the temperature was already 35 degrees C; arriving in Mandeville, it was 31. What a relief. The day also had hints of cloudiness, which darkened as the day went on. I prayed to see one drop of rain. Even though I thought it was cool, those living out in the countryside felt the heat, and stretched out on cardboard trying to nap and cool off.

The drought has hit this town just as in the city. But, sitting on the concrete step of a house outside Mandeville town, its effects seemed harsher. The ground was dry and dusty. Running water wasn’t available for everyone. Some hoped that a neighbour with a well or tank would take pity on them and give water. No guarantee. Alpart had built many houses in the area, and they all had big water tanks to catch rainwater. Many houses, also had modern black plastic tanks. Give thanks for tanks.

I’d brought some mangoes from my walk and they were received gladly. One had burst and become soft, so I readied to eat it myself. A jug of water came and I washed hand and mango together. The sweet fruit was nice to take the dustiness from my mouth. I threw the skin onto a pile of drying grass.

Chickens raced to peck at it. Waste not.

Those chickens were adults, but chicks that we want to raise can’t survive without water, and none meant that the little extra income selling them offered was gone, for the moment. But, a new ground had been prepared for sweet potatoes.

The yield looked good, judging by the bucketful that came to go into the car.

While chickens could not be raised, the need for the freezer was less, so it was turned off. That would calm the bill, and keep it around J$3,000 a month. Sounds little? Try that on no regular income. We suggested putting bag juice in the freezer and selling them for a little extra money. Maybe, but the shop up the road might still be preferred.

Children went off to have something to eat. It was well after noon, but the first meal was still not on the table. Such is life. I pondered my excessive eating on a few weeks of holiday. Really!

I’d brought some clothes I no longer wore–shirts and pants. They were well appreciated. Some bars of soap picked up from hotels, also went into the family stock. Thanks, again.

Bare feet kicked back and forth over dry red dirt.
The mining industry had brought many services and a better way of life. But, bauxite mining was done. Yet, the town is not falling to its knees. Money is around. I saw a new set of town houses going up, next to a block that had been started but never finished.
image Doors close, doors open. A man cleared his yard of dry and dying plants. The paint on the house was impeccable, across the road, likewise, and a new colour too. Many people here have foreign income, mainly from time spent working abroad–England, Canada, Cayman Islands–and get protection and gains from the falling exchange rate. Some homes stand vacant, though looking spruce, their owners delayed abroad facing judgement for crimes that allowed them to build their mansions.

But, they have mouths to feed. The hardware store was busy. Pipes to fix, at least, or just top-up cars to buy. The golf course was like a desert, brownish and crisp like toast. Not a soul in sight. Town was quiet too. The market still bustled but not so much. It was Thursday. When pay comes then things would pick up. Taxis hope for rides.

We stopped by the pharmacy before heading back to the furnace of Kingston. I spoke to the manager, a friend and keen observer of the Jamaican scene. He told me that I looked and sounded more Jamaican. I took the compliment as a sign of time well-spent over the year. We talked about the perennial problem: the conundrum of Jamaica. Our views differ in detail, though not much in direction.

Many people know what needs to be done, but have come to a deal: let’s not tamper too much with what gives us the lifestyle. Work just enough. Take few risks. Enjoy the time off and leisure opportunities. Yet, we knew that some people will scratch and try hard to do more than that, yet have little to show for it. Had Madame Lagarde come recently to see how Jamaica had been taking so much bitter medicine and no rioting? Maybe. Once she had a Red Stripe and some jerk chicken, she understood the coping mechanism.

He feels that most Jamaicans don’t want to know what’s going on. They are not like Bruce Golding, curious about why the police commissioner resigned: he’s gone, who’s next? They don’t have much interest in GDP. How could they, after nearly five decades of seeing it putter along at one percent a year? But, of course, that’s a lie: “Cecil, you checked if the barrel reach?” Don’t upset the apple cart.

We headed back to town. I listened to the radio. Reparations Committee discussing the billions of dollars that are due to slaves and their offspring. I was asked about getting a ship to go to Africa. I pressed the gas pedal. Minister Phillips is introducing harsher tax measures, in a country where only half of registered businesses are tax compliant. Fix the leaks, first? Lawyers and politicians railed about our constitutional rights being trampled. I thought about the tax scofflaws. Trampled? Perspective is all.

Arriving in Kingston, at nearly 6pm, the temperature was over 37.5. Yikes! It must have been a scorcher here. So, glad I took a day out in the coolness.