Several people found my post about the stress of moving earlier this week had lots of personal resonance for them. Some also asked me to do some more posts as things went along.
One of the things that moving does is put time into perspective. In our case, having had many personal belongings in storage for a few years, their release has exposed the ravages of time–some things do not thrive when not used or kept in artificial conditions–as well as the speed of change in recent years.
The ravages tend to ‘attack’ things that need air and light. So, many wooden things we have have lost some lustre and may need a lot of TLC to get back their sheen; maybe, some good doses of linseed oil will work wonders.
Technological change has been rapid over the past few decades. Nothing shows that more than the world of electronics. However, the side aspect of this is how homes have had to change to accept these changes. For instance, we left behind a house that had an armoire and shelving to house a television and stereo music system. Well, now the world is full of flat-screen and wall-mounted TVs, so no need for furniture. We have the space under the TV and the cable boxes, etc. need to sit somewhere, but not in the old-style (relatively) set up.
Most people are not fans of dangling wires and I can now understand how nice it must be to design and build your own home and have these wires and cables hidden or so set up that they are not so readily visible. Anyway, time to think about creative coverings.
We’ve moved from a world of music on discs and tapes to a world of streaming. So, I had to smile when I came across some packs of blank cassette tapes. I should ask my teenager if she knows what they are.
A friend suggested I sell them on eBay, and there’s a good market.
We don’t even need a radio to listen to radio broadcasts, as many cable services offer radio stations in their packages.
What about WiFi? Long gone are the days of having computers connected to the Internet. Now, we have wireless access all over, or almost all over, and get antsy if we have weak signals in any part of the area. I am thinking about leaving some of those weak spots, though, as a kind of ‘quiet zone’, especially as that is around the master bedroom. I’m pretty comfortable with many changes and all the little things one needs to know about setting up Internet connections. But, my heart goes out to those who never grasped how it all works. They may even have never mastered the remotes for the TV and still are at a loss when new equipment arrives and has to be used. Like the transition from a kettle on a fire to an electric one, it can be an odd shift.
We’re also having to deal with the ‘new’ that is not so new, that is living in a different climate and culture. The climate part is great in that summer all year round is a joy. But, life is different in the tropics. I do not freak out when I see lizards crawling over my sneakers, but I’m reminded I need to check my footwear before sticking my feet in 🙂 If you don’t like living things sharing your space, then see you later. Ants love people and their food supplies. I’d rather remove the temptation than spray, etc, but my wife loves to be armed with Bagon. Then, there is the bad weather. I have not been keep to open lots of windows because I don’t know how the rain falls where we are. When it rains, it can pour hard in Jamaica, and much as I love fresh air, I do not like surprise pools of water because I did not realise from where the rain comes.
So, as we plod along and things take shape, little adjustments will get made. I’ve mastered the lights. Success! Set realizable goals. Few boxes today than yesterday? That’s the spirit!
“I’ve moved!” I’ve been telling friends, with a certain amount of pleasure and abandonment–of the carefree kind, not the physical leaving behind sort. They often came back quickly with “How did it go?” “Good luck with that!” “I hate moves!” or a set of not happy-inducing remarks.
I mentioned last week how moving is highly ranked as a cause of stress. I quoted the following:
“It’s one of life’s most stressful experiences, and it’s because it involves having to cope with change,” explains Nicky Lidbetter, chief executive of charity Anxiety UK. “Moving house represents a transition in life, it’s about change and unfamiliarity and for many people that causes stress and anxiety. May 5, 2016 Read How to reduce the stress of moving house – Anxiety UK.
Now, we’ve moved a lot over the past 15 years, from separate homes as singles into marital home; from our new home in the USA to an official residence in Guinea that backed onto the ocean, and back; from USA to another house in Barbados and back; from our house in a cul-de-sac in the USA to a house in a gated complex in Jamaica, and now within Jamaica. I’ve always thought about the moves with mixed feelings, but more tilted towards the positive, in part because each move was its own start to an adventure, and some of the ‘journeys’ are still underway.
We also had the good fortune of not ending up in some home that was terrible. Our first spot in Guinea was an official residence on a main road; not a very prepossessing house and not much lived in by my predecessor, and it lacked any homely touches. It also needed a lot of sprucing up. But, it was next door to one of the president’s wives, so was in a safe neighbourhood. I negotiated to find a new official residence and made an offer the owner of a new housing complex could not refuse and he gave up his villa to move into one of the tower blocks on the site, and voila! We had nice neighbours, in the Chinese Ambassador and the British Ambassador on either side. The former I rarely saw, but the latter (which had two postings) I saw often and we became and are still good friends. Living with lots of security takes some getting used to, though. Two guards 24-hours a day was too much, though, and I begged to half the detail. When we got back to the simple life, it was nice to be in a bucolic suburb near the Capital Crescent Trail, where it was a five-minute walk to the shops or to a patch that went to Georgetown in one direction and downtown Bethesda in the other direction, and was frequented by people taking exercise in all forms. Much of the year we could opt to ride to work, and when I retired it was my walking place of choice.
We’ve been lucky because working for international organisations has meant that we get a lot of help. We have movers to help disassemble, pack, load, list, ship, store, unload, recheck lists, unpack, re-assemble, etc. That’s a huge physical and mental burden lessened, though the fact that you have to move is no less anxiety-creating. But, moves are wholesale, so it’s a full 40 foot container somewhere along the way. Each move, we got rid of plenty of stuff, but then acquired new things in new places and then shipped those home, to then go through a weeding out again later. But, our core furniture is much the same as when we first decided to buy a home. It’s nice timeless stuff, with lots of cultural and geography added, such as wooden figures, carpets from the Caucasus counties, pottery, and dirt from all over, plus abundant memories.
Our latest move from a furnished house to one that was unfurnished also had the excitement–yes, you read right–of seeing our own belongings after their spending more than three years in storage. My thoughts turned first to trepidation about what condition things would be in, but hardly anything was damaged or the worse for wear due to being in a container and warehouse all that time. By contrast, my wife was taken with “I forgot we had that!” She of the minimalist lifestyle. 🙂
Fortunately, too, the initiation of the moves hasn’t always been driven by one part of the couple, because all the liaison can be as burdensome as the questions about what to pack what to ship, what to think about keeping in short-term storage, etc. But, it’s good to have seen it from both angles, as ‘leader’ or ‘follower’.
I have also moved myself a few times, and I was telling the moving crew at the weekend how I moved from an upstairs apartment and got a bed out of a window single-handed. I learned how to move heavy furniture by sliding it on cardboard, up and down stairs. It’s amazing what one person can do. You have to be resourceful. But, as we agreed, you don’t want to do too much as you have work to do at the other end, and maybe a long drive in-between.
But, as far as I’m concerned there’s always something funny involved in a move. It may be people or things that cause the ripples in the stomach. This one has been all about Bed-lam!
It all began when a friend and realtor offered us some air beds for the first few nights. It’s a while since I slept on one of those and I completely forgot how difficult they are to get off, let alone have a decent night sleep. I woke up feeling I was being wrapped in a huge bowl of blancmange. I had nothing on which I could lever myself, so I slithered onto the floor and then tried to pull myself up by a dresser. I had one night on that THING! I then had to go to the north coast early in the morning after that night and was then spoilt by having four nights in a big, real bed. But, I had to come back and spend one more night on the ‘Titanic’ bubble, which had by now lost half its air. Needless to say the night was rocky, or really squishy. Again, in the morning I had to do my impression of a slithering snake. I’M glad no one was with a camera.
So, I was excited when I heard that a delivery of our furniture would come the next day. Though I had planned to be on the north coast again from early Saturday, my wife ‘prevailed’ on me to delay my trip (as she and our daughter had just flown off to Florida for a weekend swim meet–didn’t they know we were moving?), so I committed to stay till midday. See, I care! 🙂 As luck had it, the first item out of the truck was our bed 🙂 At least a real mattress would be there for when I got back.
The movers came with a crew of about eight men, both old and young. Many moving firms seem to have a kind of ‘succession’ planning going on, with older guys (mainly) showing new and younger guys the ropes (literally, in terms of moving the heavy items). This crew was quite funny in a typically Jamaican way. The driver of the container lorry had arrived with his lady, who was a really ‘fluffy diva’, even down to the powder on her neck. I don’t know what he’d promised her, but the two of them were soon on the grass verge as if they had good to country and were on a river bank. Anyway, the guys told me they would be unloading the container and putting the things into a smaller truck to come down the driveway to the house. It sounded like more work to me. But, I was surprised to see it worked well, and of course reduced some of the heavy humping on and up and over. The supervisor was ‘Mr. Big Picture’ and it’s important that someone has that because some of the men are clueless. “Where do you want this box?” the man asked. ‘What’s in it?” I asked. He did not know. I asked him what was its number and we checked the packing list: ‘downstairs office’. OK. We could decide on general location. I gave general ideas, such as make sure that bedroom things are in or close to the rooms concerned. But, I had to point out that stacking boxes four deep by a window meant I could not get to the window to open or close it. Oh! Yes, oh! 🙂
In between all of this heavy lifting, I suddenly saw some men rolling on the floor with heavy wrapping paper and a man rolled up inside it! “It’s his birthday!” one man said. ‘What happened to the flour?’ I asked. They were having too much fun. Well, noon cane and I left. Most of the container had been emptied. The team was going to assemble as much as possible before their day ended at 4.
I went to do my business and spent the night with friends, in a real bed. After playing in a charity tournament on Sunday, I headed home and got in about 8. What a joy! My bed! I couldn’t really wait, but I showered and unpacked a little and slid into it and under the covers. Bliss! I was soon asleep by about 10. Then…
Kachunk! I felt the bed move and I was leaning over, with my head toward the floor. It did not feel like an earthquake. So, I got up. I went to the bathroom and looked at the bed in the half-light of 2am. I got back into the bed. After what seemed like an hour, I felt it again. Kachunk! Now, my head was closer to the floor. What the…! I got up and looked the bed. The mattress was inside the frame at a steep angle. Had the bed broken? Search me, as they say. I got up and headed downstairs, knowing that I could at least lie on a sofa. What a disaster! I sent my wife a message in the wee hours, so that she could share my joy when she got up in Florida. I watched some tennis–Australian Open had begun.
In the middle of the morning, some of the loading crew came by. We looked at the bed. Unfortunately, slats that support the base mattress were missing. THey were not in any unopened packages, so somehow they had disappeared. Well, that was good news. I just suggested we move the bed frame and put the mattresses on the floor. So, that’s where we are. My wife came back yesterday and was agog at the stuff that was in the house. But, she seemed to like the make shift bed set-up and was sleeping deeply when I got up before dawn. She didn’t look that stressed. I saw that she had emptied a few boxes before going to sleep…and put away the things I needed to take somewhere today. Oh, I wonder where they are, now?
But, she’s off on the road again, and a two-day conference followed by another trip means that we will put off the joint decisions about whether her long dresses really should stay in the closet with my shirts. I know what I think. Now, let’s see what else I can do? Lots of boxes to unload. Not quite sure why my shoes are on shelves that look better suited for clothes. Where is the food? Well, here is some. Odd. It’s with some bed linen. Hmm! Can I find my Nutribullet? Well, here is a large blender cup part. But, where is the motor base? What are all these keys? Is there a map for the light switches? Oh, that sounds like a phone? Where was I when I last had my cell phone?
When I’ve thought in recent days how to try to fix some of the problems I see in Jamaica, I came back to a familiar stumbling block. The image I have for Jamaica’s future may not be shared by many.
Take aside the fact that I may have an image of a country where many things happen smoothly, in an environment that is largely clean and litter-free.
Ignore that I foresee a time when time means something important to everyone.
Put away the notion that we would not feel that a free-for-all was possible any and everywhere, and that many would not need to opt for that because they had plenty of good job opportunities, or good options, generally.
I’m not sure why my image of Jamaica keeps coming back to a Caribbean version of Switzerland. It may be that I like the Alps, and living in the shadows of the Blue Mountains in Kingston my mind can make the switch more easily.
Whatever vision political leaders have put forward to the Jamaican people, they have not painted a picture of a Jamaica that is really very different from what we had and what we have now. No doubt, north coast hotel developments have changed dramatically the coastline. Yes, Highway 2000 has changed dramatically the road landscape between Kingston and May Pen. The newly remodelled Norman Manley International Airport is a showpiece, matched by a newly paved road along Palisadoes, with its huge rocks protecting us from sea surges. The mining and industrial complexes in St. Elizabeth and Ewarton light up the sky in a spectacular way.
Whatever they promoted, did we really expect to see Jamaican streets largely empty because most of our people were working feverishly in offices or factories, tilling farmland, reeling in fish, studying in classrooms, or doing things in homes that were truly welcoming to those who had to spend the days productively outside? Or did we still see street corners with young men playing dominoes, drinking beer, talking, sitting with hands in jaws, appearing to have nothing to do?
Did we see a country that did not have men pushing hand carts, each one a unique design of natural woods, and cast-off tyres?
Did we see a land where cars were not idle on the roadside, with men running to or from them with petrol cans, and passengers waiting patiently for their return so that they could continue their journeys. Did we visualise that the 5-seater car in which passengers sat would be a comfortable waiting area for all nine of them and their bags?
Recent discussions about how Jamaica could learn lessons from, and follow, Singapore have at their base something similar to my visualization of Jamaica as a Caribbean Switzerland. Both are pristine-looking countries, where order reigns, where tidiness rules, where rules rule. They are places where garbage cascading along the roads when there has been heavy rain is not a usual sight. They are place where when someone says “I will come soon” it means that they WILL come soon. Could that ever be Jamaica? If the country were to change what would it have to give up?
It’s hard, maybe impossible, to visualize a Jamaica that does not have goats running along the sidewalks of commercial and residential districts, chomping away at the unkempt grass and weeds that line the road. Those goats serve a purpose by trimming when the public purse and personnel are not there to do so, and when the private entrepreneur who could make work from doing so has not yet seen the ‘market’ opportunity. Those same goats max out by noshing on whatever garbage Jamaicans have thrown from car windows of dropped casually as they walked. Jamaica’s gone backwards. I remember years ago, when pigs were there, snout by horn, with goats. Where are they now? We’re told that that country has a glut of pork, so where are the street pigs?
Who can see a Jamaica where roadside vendors, with their rickety shacks, and colourful displays of fruit, vegetables, briefs, panties, Dutch pots, tyre rims, and other life-essentials do not form the scenery for every journey on this island?
Who could imagine taking a road trip and not seeing the cookshops, the soup pots, the oil drums converted into barbeques, the bammy and fried fish offered on plates, bags of pepper ‘shwims’ [shrimps], cashew, roots drinks, and more?
All of those things I love about Jamaica. But, am I to believe that they are also part of what is wrong with the country? Could we move to another state and keep all or most of that texture that has been what makes life here the pleasure that it is?
Do we look forward to a Jamaica where road users keep to their side of the road at all times? Why should I be surprised to see a motorcyclist, without helmet, carrying two small children (without helmets) on the petrol tank of his bike, headed toward me in traffic, on my side of the road? Where did I think I was that this would not be a near-daily happening? Life’s hard and people do what they need to do! Get over it!
Do I want a Jamaica where taxis and private bus operators do not mistake the roads for speedway circuits? What kind of country would it be if those same public transporters did not just stop in the road when it seemed right for them, oblivious of anyone or anything else on the roads at the time?
I love to see the bodies pressed together in the large city buses in Kingston, with their faces looking from the windows wondering how long it would be before they got near to home.
What about a Jamaica where every time I stop at a traffic light I do not have a flock of young men spraying soapy liquid onto my car windscreen, and scraping it off to leave a sparkling, clear glass through which I can see the long line of cars waiting ahead? The Jamaica that does not have nearby that same youth, an old woman, with crooked teeth and bent back pressing her hand against my window, with gnarled fingers hoping to clutch just a few increasingly worthless dollars?
The country that we have is one that has less than it needs to live the way that it does. People in fancy suits talk about the fiscal deficit–we’ve spent more than we earned. We were not broke because of that. We borrowed some money to tide us over. But, we were never really able to pay the money back. So, now, we earn as much as we can and pay back as much as we can, and spend a little of what is left over to keep things ticking over.
We’re not dirt poor, but we have lots of characteristics of dirt poor countries. We have aspirations that are fine and we have shown those to the world with some of what we have constructed. We also show those aspirations in the way we house ourselves, if we have means or can get to borrow the means. We show them, too, in the kind of motor vehicles that we drive–shiny, new, foreign, often too large for our real needs, but hefty and able to deal with our rugged terrain. That rugged terrain is not all natural, though. Much of it is man-made. We have BMX tracks for roads, and our children get to have roller-coaster rides every day as we try to get them to and from school, and ourselves to and from places of work and elsewhere. None of that should bother us. When our cars are damaged, we just add the cost of repairs to another of the many expenses loaded onto us because we haven’t spent money we don’t have to do repairs to essential things that we have built. It’s simple. Get over it!
I have in my mind a kind of Jamaica that is really very different from what I see and experience now. (It’s not necessarily free of all those things I see around me now.) I think I know some of the things that are needed to move to there from here. I can imagine what people need to do and what they may need to spend to get some of it done.
I don’t know if anyone else sees what I see in the future. My view is one based on a hope for certain kinds of change. My view is also based on being able to live without certain kinds of social and economic pressures.
My biggest daily problem is not what will I eat. My biggest daily problem is not where should I go today to see if I can earn some money? My daily challenge does not include wondering if I can get from my house to anywhere else I want to go. My days do not involve wondering if someone will come to disconnect the illegal electricity supply that I have rigged up. My weeks do not involve hoping that the water I am stealing from the Water Commission is suddenly locked off. My nights do not involve wondering if those bangs were the sound of a car backfiring or the sound of guns firing. I don’t think about what my child is doing when I turn off the lights at night–she’s in bed asleep, not somewhere on the street. Those concerns, and more, are not there just for a small minority, but for a very sizeable portion of this country.
I can only speculate what vision someone has who lives behind a corrugated fence around a wooden shack near a gully strewn with old fridges, washing machines, black plastic bags and food boxes.
With viewpoints so different can we move together to create something that will be better for all of us?
I am not going to venture deep into the waters of Bahamian Junkanoo. That is a minefield best entered with enough protection to thwart all forms of attack.
It’s just about noon on Boxing Day (December 26). The first parade of the Christmas season has just come towards its end as far as a public spectacle is concerned. The last ‘A group’ has left the main show area, Bay Street and Rawson Square. The crowd has left the temporary bleacher stands faster than hot bread leaves shelves. The tired fans are rushing towards their beds. Many have been out watching this annual spectacle for the better part of 10 or more hours. That’s a long time for any event, let alone one that is put on hours after the main dinner of the year for most people, on Christmas Day, and after a night when many were in church way past midnight. My young daughter and her mother went gleefully from our lodgings at about 1.30am. They returned home at about 8am. My wife did not make it past the sofa and hit it with a thud. She’s still pole-axed. My daughter told me she slept during the parade. She’s hanging in there. I’d decided to give the live parade a pass this year.
In the recent past, I’ve not felt the same fun as in earlier years. The groups came out late. Gaps between groups were long. The performances did not compensate for the sense of frustration that I felt. Instead, I decided to try watching it on local TV. It was not bad. It started on time–3am, later than usual because of a risk of rain earlier and to give the groups a better chance to get their pieces in position. The first group always suffer, and Saxons did. But, I was impressed by the promptness and settled in for a good show. Then, problems with the next major group emerged soon. Two hours after the parade had begun that second group was still not on the road. The ‘reasons’ started to trickle in. Maybe, BEC, the national electricity company had an outage, so the groups were having to work in the dark. Anyway, we were backing up. I forwarded myself to my bed at 5.30am.
Two hours later, I awoke and found that I’d missed only two of the remaining five major groups. The delays have become perennial.
For a change, as I was watching from home, I went online and sent out a stream of commentary about the events. I encouraged people to watch the broadcast online–it was good.
I found myself getting into the commentary, as the groups’ performances hit my ears and eyes. Most left me flat. Thankfully, the best was saved for last. The Valley Boys, often called ‘the premier group’ of Nassau’s Junkanoo, came out with a spectacular show, under the theme of ‘From China to The Bahamas’. It was a simple theme, that lent itself to a consistent approach: everything Chinese. Fabulous costumes, flouting reds and yellows. Black faces whitened to look Asiatic. Lanterns. Buddha. Chinese national flag. Ladies with fans. Wide-brimmed hats. Images of Bruce Lee and Enter the Dragon. A bonus was the Prime Minister, Perry Christie, a well-known avid Valley fan, out of the streets in FULL REGALIA, rushing, dressed as a Chinese Emperor. He even immortalized his dance, the ‘Perry Shuffle’. All in good fun.
Junkanoo is a national treasure or artistic and musical inventiveness and Bahamians are fiercely proud of it. But, it looks like it’s about to outlive its current form.
The major groups are now very large (around 1,000) persons. Many costumes are very large and heavy: that’s one reason why the prospect of rain and strong winds sent ripples of fear through the organizers. The delays seem to be a constant. What to do about the parade will be a topic of conversation, at least during the Christmas Season. Many acknowledged that the ‘fun groups’ (sometimes just a handful of people, having fun, especially with a few drinks) may need to be dropped, though they have the benefit of filling gaps when bigger groups are tardy. The ‘B groups’ are not really competitive with the larger ‘A groups’, which are larger and better funded. Even the A groups are not all equally blessed. Should new funding options be considered? Should a change of format and venue be considered? The National Stadium. The PM and some of his Cabinet aired that view when interviewed during the parade. Traditionalists may bridle at ‘taking Junkanoo away from its roots’. But, things change. One Bahamian friend, who was a traditionalist, but got bored and tired of the delays, and is convinced that a stadium style could work, having seen how Brazil’s carnival now works.
I can sense the fears of the traditionalists. I’ve seen the same process at work with things that have much longer and deeper roots, for instance, the relocation of a sports stadium that has been part of a community for decades. There’s a lot of emotion invested in the location of events. Just this week, we saw the last NFL game played at Candlestick Park–a ‘baby’, built in 1960. The English soccer team I support, Queens Park Rangers, are now going forward with plans for a new stadium. I grew up in the shadows of the current stadium; I can’t visualize home games being played anywhere else but at Loftus Road (the team’s home since 1917). All of my childhood football memories from the early-1960s–glories and despair–are enshrined in that place. I have a friend who’s apartment abutted Arsenal’s former home, Highbury Stadium, and remember her anguish at plans to build a new stadium after plans had been rejected to expand Highbury. She was not even a fan, but her life had been deeply touched by where she lived and what she experienced with the football stadium and its activities just outside her kitchen window. So, I know any word about changing Junkanoo wont be taken just so.
The Junkanoo format needs to change. The groups need to accept a different kind of discipline. Spectators wont keep putting up with the current situation. If they don’t then the event will die. I wont presume the discussion, but it needs to happen. Recent history suggests that the ‘conversation’ will be painful. Some say, “let the groups decide”. But, just because that’s how many things are in the Caribbean, those who really have the power to make decision, may decide and changes go ahead anyway, and then there will be recriminations about lack of consultation and betrayal of traditions, etc.
At least, The Bahamas have their Junkanoo as a vibrant part of their national life. Jamaica is barely holding on to its version of Junkanoo–more in keeping with the earlier base of the festival: a holiday for slaves, with many trappings of African traditions and aspects of colonial experience mixed. A rump, not even matching the horse’s head that is part of the tradition. I’d get into a fight about trying to boost that tradition much sooner that mix it up with Bahamians about where they will hold their parade.
One of life’s sad realities is that we are all not blessed in the same ways. Those who could be termed ‘gifted’ (or a similar positive term) tend to have that accolade because ‘good’ things happen to them or ‘bad’ things avoid them, or both. Some have a rich mixture of both and will either feel neutral or tend to the side where the majority of experience tilts. This applies to people as individuals but also, collectively, as nations.
Jamaica is a place where the rich mixture applies. Blessed with a wonderful, warm climate over a lush and beautiful landscape, and surrounded by glistening sea water. The land and sea provide some of the best things that nature can offer. The people who now live there are mainly the offspring of slaves brought from Africa over 400 years ago, mixed with other immigrants from Europe, the Middle East, India, and China, who came voluntarily and involuntarily. They have melded and formed a fascinating multicultural mess. For most of its history, Jamaica has had few instances of civil strife between the different cultures. Yes, slaves rebelled against British landowners and political rulers. Yes, blacks have had instances of rioting against Chinese businesses. Yes, people who were not Rastafarians have attacked and victimized Rastas.
When Jamaica was a colony, it could not carve out unilaterally an identity for itself that was free from the control of its colonial masters. However, Jamaicans tried to show that they would not let these colonial rulers dictate without challenge. Slave riots in the 19th century resulted in significant changes in the relationship Britain had with the island it ruled. Labour unrest in the 1930s and the push for universal suffrage changed the perception of Jamaicans about themselves and their rights, and changed Britain’s view of this then-colony’s willingness to be subjected to second class or worse citizenship.
The world was changing and Jamaica was part of the trend that was underway to challenge Imperialism. After the Second World War, colonies across the world were looking to break away from colonizers. Jamaica was the first Caribbean country to take its Independence from Britian. Among its Caribbean counterparts, Jamaica has often been in the forefront of developments–good and bad.
Since, Independence in 1962, the country has tried to steer itself upon a path it wants to call its own. It’s been a rocky road. Its political life has been turbulent. The country has lived with a ‘tribal’ divide in national politics, which has seen divisions worsened by violent confrontations and developments of physical areas of control and exclusion in the so-called ‘garrisons’.
Its economic fortunes have not really been very good. Jamaica has been like many countries trying to develop but being small and not able to do much more than live off its natural attributes. Even though the country has seen its population grow rapidly, its economic base has not changed much in a fundamental way.
Jamaica has used its natural blessings.
Jamaica is what it grows: fruit, vegetables, fish, sugar cane. Jamaica is what is under the ground: bauxite, once discovered, became king. Jamaica, however, did manage to gain something more for adding value to its dirt by developing an alumina industry.
Jamaica is its climate. Once sugar and bananas did not hold sway as products to sell, Jamaica could sell its sunshine, sea, and sand, and foreign tourists flocked to sample them.
Jamaica was not about making many things. It bottled drinks and sold its excellent rums, and managed to create a great local beer. It processed some fruit and vegetables. It made medical products based on local herbs and plants, many of which have never had equal or better. It began to process its national dishes to sell locally and abroad. It tried to use its labour to make garments, a popular stepping stone for developing countries.
But, its blessings and things that came naturally have not been enough.
Jamaica was too small to develop many industries to dominate international markets. Its indigenous goods found markets but again have not seen demand swell enormously. It could not make cars, ships, steel, or other large scale items wanted by many countries at prices that would be competitive. It could use its people to offer services to each other and the rest of the world, but we have done that without being very competitive compared to local neighbors or others in further places–and these activities need us to be super competitive.
Those things that brought money to Jamaica, however, have not been enough to cover all the things that Jamaicans want to buy. As life changed, so did tastes. People wanted foreign food. People wanted to enjoy what richer countries had, and that mainly meant cars and the things that make cars work–oil. We wanted to enjoy electricity, and what it powered; we went with the production model that was common, fueling power generation by oil, which we did not have. We did not exploit our natural attributes in the form of sunlight, wind and waves. We wanted a life built on imports. Nothing wrong with that if you can afford it, but a big problem if you cannot and it becomes engrained, almost an entitlement.
Sadly, for Jamaicans, living beyond our natural and financial means has become the norm. We are now living with the pain that such excess should impose. Maybe, people thought that it was possible to live beyond our means for ever, or at least for a very long time. It really shouldn’t be hard to understand that living off gifts and loans has never been something that lasts very long, or occurs except on special occasions.
If Jamaica is like many people, it will take a lot of pain before being convinced that things have to change. Right now, the current wave of pain has not yet become extreme, but squeals of agony are beginning to get louder and come from places that were quiet before.
Much of the pain comes from a visual and real image that people do not like–their currency getting increasingly lower in value compared to other money in the world. That hits pride as well as pocket. Some of the pain is coming from bills not having the flexibility to be put off anymore. Debt allowed many (both persons and government) to enjoy what they wanted but really could not afford. Now, repaying debt is eating up literally what food people had eaten in the past. Some people may like to blame the government for being excessive, but individuals have done their part, too.
But, if change is to come, it will mean giving up much that people have taken for granted. That is unlikely to happen fast unless through some catastrophe. So, people will have to wean themselves or be weaned from the current patterns. Many will want to hang on till the last. People will also have to consider how to better exploit some ‘blessings’, which are almost natural, in that they are very much part of the country.
The country has a rich vein of creativity that has been captivating nationals and foreigners for well over a century. This has shown itself in music, dance, painting, writing, sport, food, different life styles, ingenious solutions to life’s problems, and more. We have exploited them, but not fully by any extent of the imagination.
We have gifted and talented people who cannot use their talents in the country or are not valued within the country. We understand that our doctors, nurses, teachers, artists, athletes may leave to ply their skills abroad, for more money, more fame, maybe more support, maybe more opportunities in the future. But, are we doing anything to stem that flow?
Platitudes won’t stop emigration. Jobs and good pay would help. Neither seems to be on the menu. Pleas of moral suasion won’t necessarily halt the flow, either. Pricking someone’s conscience will not affect them much if they also have to look at themselves and those they support and still see that they are in a plight. A pricked conscience does not pay rent, buy food, clothe children, or improve education and health options. That said, many have ‘hung on’ and not fled abroad, but for how much longer?
Migration has been a mixed blessing for Jamaica, both curse and cure. Many have left and supported those left behind. They took pressure off the local job market. But, we lost their sills and hardly gained a soul to replace those.
So, is Jamaica approaching a serious decision point, which has been on the horizon or a very long time? Can it change without catastrophe, or will it have to go through an extra layer of pain before curbing behaviour?
Economic policies can only affect directly some parts of a country’s problems and won’t go very far if the underlying behaviour problem goes unchanged, because people will soon revert to old habits. Jamaica may be on its way to tackling only a part of its difficulties and not really set to do more than find itself a breathing space.