All in a bray’s work: Jamaica as the land of kick me quick

I went to sleep thinking that I would write today about how Jamaica is sometimes a laughing-stock. Then, amongst the first things I read as I caught up with overnight events was about someone making a list of significant things that had happened locally (and internationally). That got me thinking about something else, at least first. I’ve noticed that Jamaica, while being the land of the nine-day wonder, is also the land of the shocking story that disappears without trace. I should, perhaps, make a list of startling stories that are reported by the mainstream media, which then never seem to reappear, at least that I notice. Of course, as one tries to recall them, they slip from memory.

I sometimes label Jamaica as the place where follow-through is some kind of mortal sin: if you were to do what you said you would, then you would burst into flames, so, it’s best to make promises and keep them empty by doing nothing to fulfill them. The problem with this is that our government has also bought into this as a way of doing business. Another blogger is very good and recalling what the current government promised in its election manifesto that has something landed in the land of no-follow-through: a place with barren rocks and the skeletons of politicians who promised Paradise and gave us a parking lot. I need to ask her to make more prominent this list of thing not done.

But, let me get back to my original thoughts–Jamaica as land of ‘kick me’ signs on its back. I wonder if Jamaica should ditch the humming-bird as our national animal or symbol and replace it with the braying jackass.

This could be our national symbol
This could be our national symbol

I read a few days ago that the jury foreman who alleged that another juror tried to bribe her during a now-famous murder trial, has lost overseas the cell phone she used to tape the bribery conversation. I rolled over with a belly cramp. Why was this phone not impounded, or whatever the police term is? Was it not vital evidence that needed to be protected? I can now visualise the conversation involving the need to travel, and the need for the phone, and no one wanting to offer the jury foreman either a phone to borrow, or paying for a new phone. Of course, there would have been all the modern angst about pictures taken that had not been downloaded or posted on Facebook. Then, there were the other messages that had not yet been deleted. In fact, the phone could have had evidence of things that would embarrass the jury foreman, and if left in the hand of Jamaica’s police force, known for its exemplary care of material personal, especially if important to court proceedings, then “Aie Caramba!” would be a meek cry. Anyway, let’s remain comforted: ‘The prosecution says although the telephone was not available for disclosure to the defence, it is ready for trial as a CD containing the recorded evidence along with all other particulars were turned over to Cain’s legal team,’  and ‘in her letter to the prosecution, the jury foreman stressed that she will return to Jamaica if she is required to testify.’ Everything cris’. This is part of the same case where vital evidence was kept in ‘secure’ conditions that allowed someone to use a murder suspect’s phone while he was in custody. Right. The lady maybe knew she was right to keep the phone, but to lose it. Do I smell something burning on the stove?

We have a minster of agriculture, who whatever he tries or says, ends up being a bit of a laughing-stock. He recently promised us the way out of praedial larceny by giving us chips with our steaks. Well, he said he would issue DNA passports to cattle, so that they could be tracked easily whenever they headed to Fort Lauderdale for a bit of shopping.

Do you want the cow to smile or be serous for the picture?
Do you want the cow to smile or be serous for the picture? (Courtesy of The Gleaner.)

We have not heard a dickey bird about that being implemented. Meanwhile, my daughter and I see men climbing on people’s walls and pulling down their mangoes and breadfruit. Of course, you cannot give a DNA-anything to a tree and its fruit. We hear and read about more horrible stories of farmers being driven out off business because people walk off with their livestock or crops. I don’t know how the administration of these cattle passports, specifically, would work. I hope that it can be done online, rather than having the cattle sit patiently in ministry of agriculture’s offices waiting for interviews, photographs, and carrying two pieces of identification. “Would you like to see my udder side?” Blink fast.

The creature that is Jamaican administration is one of those that is not a rare species, but its local offspring has strange markings. Some of these are long and dark. About a year ago, I was in the process of getting a driver’s licence. When I was living in Maryland, USA, people would joke about visiting the Motor Vehicle Administration offices, fearing that a least a half day of work would be needed. Things often took a few hours, but with few exceptions, you left with what you needed. If not, it was simple to send back the missing administrative item and not need to make another visit. In Jamaica? Well, look here, child! I filled out a form and signed it. Then I had to fill out the form again and sign it. Then, a long time passed, like in fairy tales when princesses fall asleep and are awakened by a prince puckering in their faces. The form came back again, and I signed it again; it was a different-version of the form, but had all of my personal details there. Then again, and again. I still do not have a driver’s licence. I have gone way past the point of WTF is going on. Everytime I pass a police speed trap, I get ready with my false Indian accent to tell them to “Stop harassing me” and “Why do you people always target us”. The time it would take for the police officer to process that this person who looked like a regular black Jamaican was sounding like a native of Calcutta, would also be enough time for him to think ‘I want no piece of this, sah’ and let me go on my way.

I was in contact last week with Tax Administration Jamaica (TAJ) about ways to pay taxes that did not involve going to an office, something which I have done when younger and could stand in line for hours without searing pain in my knees. But, no more. TAJ advised me of the ways to use their Internet portal to get my taxes paid. I knew it already, but I was so pleased that I had sent a tweet to @JamaicaTax, and within minutes had my answer. They are modern and interactive as far as queries are concerned. Maybe, I should ask them what is going on with my licence.

Of course, the land of no-follow-through is also the ‘land of fashionably late’. I can understand to some degree when people come late to dinner or parties. The primping and tizzying of hair take time; then there are the shoes selections and de-selections and re-selections. But, I say to my young daughter “Don’t get fooled by the obvious.” I went to the north course for a golf tournament over the weekend. We normally have breakfast provided before the early start, scheduled for 7.30 am on this occasion. We had been denied breakfast by our hostess for the night because “They always give you breakfast at the golf course”. Well, we went bright and early to secure good parking–at 6am. We talked and did some early practice, then headed to get some breakfast. “Here, little breakfast!” People were sitting in the lounge area waiting…and waiting. Not a thing in sight. I asked a lady who served at the bar what was happening. I got back one of those stock Jamaican answers: “Is not me doing the brekfuss.” I did not want to say “Clearly!” I asked her if she knew who was and where it was. No, she did not know. Then, at about 7.20, a lady came with a tray of water melon. Men descended on her like flies on a cow pat. “Wait, please!” she cried. They let her put down the tray and resumed their landing. No plates or utensils were there, so hands went and pulled at what was seen. Then came trays of boiled yellow yam, some fish with broad beans, callaloo, and fried dumplings. Men descended again. “We have no plates!” ‘We need forks!” Both arrived. The frenzy started as people, now dizzy with hunger, clamoured for some of the life essentials. “I gave up certain, for uncertain,” said one of my Chinese-Jamaican golfing friends, as he told me what he had done. “My wife gave me a sandwich with sausage. She’s no fool,” said another friend. Our smiles came back as we felt the fuel tank filling and reaching full.

I did not want to ask what had happened to make this near-disaster occur. Of course, 7.30 start-not was now in play. Players fed. Time to get rolling with admin details and ‘To your carts!” It was just after 8; not bad, considering.

I was getting a ride on a cart with one of the team members who was not playing. “Who’s taking your team’s cooler? Your captain should designate someone,” one of the organizer/sponsor ladies asked. “Excuse me. What cooler?” She told me that refreshments were now in a cooler for each team to carry and distribute. I had made this suggesting during the last round, when drinks ran out and the ‘players with ticket only’ system clearly could not control the flow of drinks served by callow youths in the heat and sun. “Take a house point, Jones,” I heard in my head. I quickly took over the cart and went in search of my team captain. He had no clue what I was talking about, but accepted my offer to go back and sort out whatever was needed. I did, and was soon hauling–by cart–a cooler ladened with water and Gatorade. I went in search of our playing groups and made sure they had supplies for the next few hours. Simple, really. I then had enough of driving a cart and went back to walking and taking pictures. This was a case of someone taking a simple suggestion and running with it. I was shocked and wondered what kind of organization she worked with. Well, she was well-educated, had lived and studied abroad, and her boss was a ‘math whiz’ (which may not be true, but he clearly likes to use mathematics to solve problems). Bottom line: try something new to overcome something that is not working. That, dear reader, is not the Jamaican way.

What is the normal way was shown to me vividly by a request to drop someone into Ocho Rios town to try to get a bus to Kingston. Wherever I have lived, it was easy to find where to take buses: there were signs marked ‘bus stop’ or ‘bus stop next right’, etc. In Jamaica? You really want to ask? We recalled that the Knutsford Express interurban bus stopped at a jerk centre on the outskirts of Ochi. But, where to get a regular Coaster or maxi-taxi? We asked at a gas station. We were told to go back and turn at the second stop light. We did. Whoi! Bus stop land. Dozens of buses were parked with men hovering in the street like old sailor ready to ‘Shanghai’ passengers. “We goin’ to Half Way Tree!” “He lying! He nuh go a Half Way Tree…” My passenger was standing in a throng of at least six men all trying to push her towards their chariot of inspire and get a fare and full load, and head off. I took a picture, just in case she later called me to say that she was nowhere near Half Way Tree.

'This way, Miss. Half Way Tree..."
‘This way, Miss. Half Way Tree…”

I could not go to get her, but could at least help identify the lying son of a jackass. For my lady passenger to be shocked like me to see the huge bus park and no signs was telling. Well, we will know another time that it’s just across from the police station.

I’m still struggling to remember some of the cases that had been reported without trace. But, that may well be what is intended. We feign we care, but really we don’t give a yam.

But, we are truly the land of ‘that’s how we do it’ (or ‘ah so wi dweet’ in Patois), except that no doing it is what we do.


Taking the easy road

I haven’t abandoned my quest for the voice of the consumer. But, another group also needs a voice. They are the people who are not on the easy road.

I wrote a few days ago about the Jamaican ‘anything goes’ approach. I also wrote about the KMT culture of our ‘daily grind’. Now, it’s a day to look at ‘easy road-ism’. You don’t have to go far in any day or place to reap the whirlwind that comes from someone living off the labour of others. If you know your Karl Marx, you should know about ‘surplus labour‘.

I live in a rented house, and the landscaper that the landlord uses is a really lovely lady: she makes me laugh whenever I see her, as we plot ways of getting more out of the little plot and imagine going into small market gardening in uptown Kingston. Yesterday, she came laden with a cloth bag. Inside were some offerings from her garden: pears and green bananas. This is Jamaica and (avocado) pear is in season. We exchanged comments about the merits of various kinds of pears–the dryish tasting ones that are great with nothing else, except perhaps a piece of bulla; the buttery kind, etc. I showed off the bunch of bananas that was growing on the one tree in our yard. We plotted putting in more bananas, and where we would place the avocado plant that is now growing in a pot. She then shared a little story.

She told me how her husband had gone to check their pear tree and found a man with a stick in their yard picking the pears. Says the pear man to the husband: “Sorry, boss. I didn’t know you were home or I would have come to ask permission. I’m hustling.”cabbages Her husband was speechless. I shared this story with some friends and got back a few better stories from my brethren.

One Trinidadian friend, who lives in the hilly areas told me the following:

Yams that she had planted in her  yard last year were nearly ready for reaping, and some men doing work next door must have been timing her schedule. So one day, after she and her husband were gone all day, they came home to find the men had dug up the yam and then proceeded to roast them. They  had made a small fire in the yard, roasted and ate the yam! Her gardener told her the next day “Dem dig and nyam up you yam, Miss. Word pon di road is dah farrin lady nah need dah yam.” The next week somebody raided the gungo peas bushes which she’d planted, again they told somebody “Dem wanted to taste her hand.” She was accepting, to a degree, saying that there was never a dull day in Jamaica. NEVER! But she was also sad…very p****d, in fact, as she had never planted yams before and tried four heads with the help of her gardener. She had felt proud and had dug  up two, and left two. Now, the s**t heads had eaten them all. But, she was still positive about living in the hills and noting that people were growing all kinds of things…some legal, some less so. Some yards needed no weeding. Some were full of weeds 🙂

Life in Jamaica is full of such things. Many people take taking from others as part of life–almost a right. Property is theft! Roll over Proudhon. Anarchy rules! Out of many…

Hill people live on the edge of properties where they can work as gardeners and do their own small farming. Many have squatted for decades. Many steal water and electricity. Many hustle all the days of their lives. Acting honestly, so that they can be dishonest. Selling flowers to customers and then taking cuttings from the plants to resell. It’s business!

In urban area, a similar culture exists. People want but don’t have means, so take, which means those who have means face higher costs. Every now and then, areas are raided, people are disconnected from illegal water or electricity. A little time passes, the cycle resumes.

One of my trusted older Jamaican heads told me that a common trick in rural areas is to dig up yam, etc. then cover the hill over to make it seem that all is ok. Of course, in short time, the vine will wither and all will be evident. We know that fox and mongoose are quick to come to raid the chicken coop. But, so too are neighbours.

One of today’s papers laments again why Jamaica has such a large food import bill, and wonders about local food production to help fill the gap. I know many people who want to try to grow a little for fun and even to feed themselves. Jamaicans don’t have a lock on this desire, though we have some things going for us in terms in land space and soil quality. Almost everyone I know has something growing, and we share the fruit and vegetables, as much for communal reasons as to ensure we don’t waste. Some urban Barbadian friends of mine have been displaying proudly the fruits of their labours, with crops of tomatoes, okra, sweet potatoes, cassava, lettuce. But, the problem that many thought was just the bane of the life of the rural farmer is hitting those little adventurers.

Last month, I read that the Caribbean Open Institute is now working with the Rural Agricultural Development Authority to utilise technology and open data to help combat Jamaica’s J$5-billion praedial larceny problem. The project is an attempt to develop better information about where thefts are occurring and converting the written police reports into more usable data. My friend’s problem probably wont feature because she wont report it to the police, for various reasons, some related to keeping ‘community spirit’.

The news has been full of stories about the ‘small man’ under the hammer. Kingston is full of young men at road junctions offering to wash car windscreens. Screen Shot 2013-10-25 at 8.59.19 AMThe police want to stop this practice and are threatening to come down hard on this corps. Part of the problem is that some become aggressive and abusive is their offers are rejected. Last week, I declined and was then asked for J$100 to buy rice, with a “You eat off wi food!” I’m not a “you”, so I told my not-to-washer that he didn’t know me and to get out of my face with his ‘r**s’ victimism. My delivery was reminiscent of Shabada and he got the message. But, many people are annoyed at the police for not having dealt with the problem after saying a few years ago that they were going to ‘crack down’ on the practice. Talk is cheap!

A rasta, who is against legalizing ganja, put himself into a hot stew by asking the paper who interviewed him to plaster his picture in the paper. They put him on the front page smoking his chillum pipe full of herbs. Within hours, he’d been raided by the police and arrested. Jamaicans are up in arms against the police, whom it seems can’t find gunmen, rapists, and other criminals so go after ‘soft’ targets like carwashers, weed growers and handcart drivers.

But, as Buju put it, “Is not an easy road“.

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