PDP Community Series – Blog 13: Jamaican Society – 1

This blog is a story that happened long ago, about 1965 – 1970. At this time I was working with Arlene Dixon as a principal planner preparing a master plan for Montego Bay, Jamaica. I had been talking to a boy (young man about 20 years old) who wanted me to better understand the Jamaican people. His description is shown in this blog. His intellect was way beyond his years and he deeply loved his country. He also gave me a short story that he described as following:

This is a story about Jamaica, about life inside of Jamaica, through it we hope to publicize the thoughts and emotions of our people. Be warned, you’ll have to possess the insight to allow you to read between the lines. We are a race with differing backgrounds, different views, varying in our outlook on life in general, emotionally, mentally and physically. Read on, when you are through you draw your own conclusions and form your own opinions.

Unfortunately, I could not contact him again because he had moved. I still have a copy of his book (handwritten) and I wish I could find him to return it and see if it could be published. I couldn’t before. I really would like to know about his life. The only thing I know is his name was Fitzroy. As you read below I think I know which way he went in his life.

All over Jamaica you’ll find Districts like the one mentioned in the ensuring pages. The island is divided into fourteen parts, or Parishes, if you prefer. Each Parish has a central town or Capital where the most business transactions are conducted. There will be inevitably be a market place, teeming with people from all over the Parish, or in from neighboring Parishes, selling their wares to the less privileged. There’ll be all types of tropical fruits and food, meat, fish, clothing and accessories.

The people who sell these items are called “higglers”. They all seem boisterous, sometimes even threatening in their attitude, but most are really pleasant people once you get to know them or visa versa. The food they offer for sale is grown by them in most instances. Farming is revered by the elderly, scorned by the youth. Some adults interpret it as a way of life. They know if their Country is self-sufficient in food it would help to ease the economic problems to a great extent. The young cannot see this and even if they could, they still would not believe.

These kids (three quarters of them) simply scorn the soil. They won’t be able to grow fingernails say the girls, it’s too strenuous, they say. We have to wait too long before we can reap the fruits of our labor say the boys. If we become farmers, it’s going to be difficult to get a good girl, no girl wants a farmer.

You see, we suffer from a mental bloc here, when it comes to farming and other menial tasks. Jobs that are considered to be dirty by most, are, in effect, is a way of surviving for others. The garbage-man is frowned upon, the mechanic, in some cases, is scorned. A gardener is a different kettle of fish, simply not for them here. If you work in a factory, or on a plantation, if you are a “coal burner” you are looked down at. (In Jamaica we have no natural coal here, so in order for us to have coal for daily uses, there are people who opt to burn it, mostly older folks). The green wood is cut to the right sizes, usually with an axe; then its packed traditionally into the shape of a dome. The kiln is lit, then green shrubbery and soil is used to cover the entire mound. This burns for a couple of days, emitting sickly sweet odor, which surprisingly is pleasant to the nostrils. When the kiln is ready, a shovel is used to remove the soil and extract the soil. If “drawn” at night, this is one of the most prettiest sights to behold. All this is hot, sweaty, “dirty” work. The coal is left to cool, then bagged and sold, usually at exorbitant prices because of the time involved and the nature of the job.

Security guards, working in some areas, are scorned and ridiculed mercilessly at times, by the public in general, because they act as a useful deterrent to crime and hinder the pimps and dafers from unduly harassing the visitors who come to our country. When you have a dog in your care it gets much worse. The delivery man, the hand cart man the “higglers”, the sanitation men (cesspool), maintenance men, all are scoffed at; ridiculed by delinquent youth and lazy adults everywhere in the country. They tell you, point blank, that they wouldn’t want your job. Offer them the money you obtain by doing these jobs (which isn’t much) and they would handily take it. The salary obtained from these jobs are not “dirty” to them, no sir!; why then do they consider the work as being “dirty”?
Accountants, bank managers or managers of other institutions, doctors, government workers, politicians, entertainers, drug lords; these type of people are generally thought of as having “excess dollars” (lots of money) and are respected by all. In truth, most of the above mentioned people find it difficult to make ends meet at times. Finding themselves no better off than the usual drudgery of society, they, however, are called the Dons because they might drive a flashy car or live in a nice home uptown. If the personality is rich and generous in his disposition he is called a “Don Dada” or “Godfather”. These are the people with power who are usually responsible for encouraging the criminal elements in our society. They have dollars, so their word is law, men run to do their bidding, even if it means destroying each other in the process. The lazy people, the pimps, prostitutes, general rejects of society, all depend on them, given maximum respect and in turn continually used by these Dons.

Some people yearn to find a job to go to. Others are glad they don’t have a job. Why should they waste their strength, ruin their health, for little or nothing. They naturally believe they’re better off sitting down. All my country-men, who seek after a job will always need one that pays well (who can blame them things are so expensive here). Most people know that on the outside, you will need a certain amount of qualifications to obtain certain jobs. What do they do? They slave during the days if possible, scrimping and saving to attend evening classes, then college. Wonder of wonders, they get their diploma or degree and set out on the job seeking path. They write applications for months, sit in interview after interview; and at the end, ” Don’t call us, we’ll call you”. This goes on for ages, then this very qualified person gets lucky — Overseas. Back home, another person want’s a job but this one is unqualified, sometime barely literate. He has “friends in high places”, so he calls a friend, expresses his desires. Strings are pulled, favors are granted, alas: some moron has gotten a job which he has no idea of how to handle. He has to be taught by those he is supposed to be guiding, only he doesn’t care to learn. He is getting big bucks for a responsibility that he leaves to rest on the shoulders of his underpaid peers, hiring and firing at will. The result — chaos, under-production, dissatisfaction at the workplace, which eventually affects the business, then the economy. Who cares? Anything for a friend.

People resort to witchcraft (Obeah), to procure good paying jobs, also to secure them. They become tale bearers, spies for the boss, in their quest for positions of recognizance. They’ll do anything to get more than the present twenty dollars a day because that’s insufficient to feed, clothe, and educate their children. We, in this society, are overworked, underpaid, then simply forgotten by those in authority. Hence, an underlying resentment presents itself, a sullenness lurks behind every smile. We are still enslaved, only the body is free of the fetters.

Jamaicans are a timid, docile race, easily manipulated since time began. We do anything for a bribe, because we’re paid so little for what we do. Yet we can never find ourselves in possession of the guts to fight for what we really want in life; no, not all of us are lion-hearted. Not for us are revolutions, or coups. We cry out for our suffering, brutalization, exploitation everyday, yet are content to sit back, making no conscious effort towards positive change. A people dependent on words, promises of politicians; A people truly lost and denied, slow to action, always complaining instead of doing. Having no hope officially realizing we are the root of all our problems; crying out while not really caring as we all head downhill to our doom, packed tightly , a bunch of goons in the proverbial “barrel”.
Outlying towns scattered admit the changing hills of shades of violet or smokey blues can be found the districts. Places with names such as Windsor-Castle, Suffers Heights, Oxford, Bonny Gate and so on. Here life is far more difficult, more demanding and less rewarding than in the townships. Oxford, for example, a shabby, worn out, broken down district. There are a few new houses, yes, but the majority of dwellings can not remember the last time they were repaired, or with a new coat of paint, if at all painted. There is no school worth mentioning, no hospital, not even a community center. The nearest such institutions are miles away in the capital town of Port Maria. There are no roads, well sort of (if you consider millions of unfilled potholes, interlaced with large marl stones deposited there by the Public Works Department, in a futile attempt of reconstructing these non negotiable tracks hoping to bring back some semblance of their former even surface – roads).

Water is obtained from stand-pipes if the pumps are working. If not there is always the river, crystal clear cool water, or there are springs where the refreshing water comes straight out of the rocks, set magnificently by Mother Nature into a gently sloping hillside. Here water is secured by the inhabitants for household purposes. The river also produces large succulent crayfish (resembling a lobster) and shrimps which they depend on sometimes for food.

Electricity is available now. When I was a child it wasn’t. Only a few people, however, can afford electricity. The bills escalate as you do your best to conserve. The rest use oil lamps or run electricity using illegal connections from the nearest electrical pole to their homes. If discovered they are arrested, taken to court and fined exorbitant fees or face possible imprisonment. You also might lose valuable appliances in the bargain.

Nine out of ten people living in Oxford are very poor, born into poverty, a gift from their predecessors. Malnutrition is evident to some extent as shown in the sunken eyes and dilated pupils of the children. Some of the children have pot bellies and are knock-need. They have little resistance to tropical diseases such as diarrhea, fevers, and terrible colds which saps their strength giving them the grotesque shape of starvation. Most of their resources are akin to the shabby, broken down houses. They are in need of food and clothes and a better way of life.

They look that way even when they look their “Sunday Best” to attend church. Most seem tired of living. Existing is a terrible burden. Finding money for basic daily necessities is a big problem. They usually credit food from one of the three groceries here. When they obtain money. They grudgingly pay the bill and find themselves penniless again soon after. If bills are not paid over extended periods of time your credit is cut. Then, out of necessity you are forced to have to beg, steal or borrow. Then it’s no surprise that “beg you” are among the first words a child learns to say.

These people, and many more like them, are a distraught, neglected, forgotten race. Misfits of society, whose only crime is being poor illiterate fools. They are downtrodden and oppressed by their government. A government they placed in office in a major election, simply because they were tired of the old one. They wanted to suffer under a new regime. Hoping for a better life; worse came.

Petty larceny is the order of the day, almost like a job for the dropouts. Animals, food, whatever they can get their hands on are stolen and quickly sold to dishonest entrepreneurs. Strangely enough, even when starving most of the time, people can never be persuaded to til the soil. Being illiterate, they’ll find no other job, yet they refuse to farm. A few slave on the plantations of Brimmer Hall and Oxford respectively, doing “hard labour” for a few invisible dollars that disappear in a jiffy, eaten up by S.C.T.,income taxes, and the general high cost of living. Some go off the “good ole US of A”, on farm work, other jobs. Some who are luckier than the rest eventually migrate overseas to stay with relatives seeking a better way of life. These cases are few and far between. There is a huge work force available, young men and women who are strong, yet lazy; who have yet to be convinced that planting food is a sensible alternative to starvation. That name brands shoes and clothing can come through hard work not from stealing or depending on relatives who also have their own lives to address.

Some are willing to plant, but cannot afford the high cost of seeds, tools, pesticides, fungicides, fertilizer and so on. There is minimal aid here from a government which “puts people first”. Oxford is just a drop in the bucket for getting aid. All over the country situations like these exist. The people are becoming restless and they see no hope for the future, only a deep despair. Children drop out of school rapidly at a tender age. The girls are sometimes forced into prostitution, and find a man. She is told who will give her money, even who will buy her books and uniforms and who will send her to school. Soon she is pregnant without a father for her child. The same parents, who encouraged her to do so, now that she no longer takes home money, are the same ones who’ll turn her out-put her on the street. The result — another prostitute. The boys have a never ending love for flashy clothes, affluent apartments or houses they’ll never be able to buy by working here. They love lots of girls, an easy way of life, but are not willing to work for it. They become hardened criminals in some cases, fugitives from justice by selling drugs and firing illegal guns, allowing their endless dreams, , their covetousness, to erode their sense of mortality. Their visions control their lives until eventually lose it one day, coming home in bodybags from the US, or lying bullet ridden on the hot concrete sidewalk of the ghetto; a policeman standing over them – his automatic rifle hot and smoking. They wanted to be in the “fast lane”, they were until they crashed.

Those of us who work for an honest living, wonder why we do so at times. The lives the “bad boys” live, tempt us. All you have to do is get a gun, secure an outlet for obtaining ammunition, and you are in. We don’t want it that way. Our common senses prevails. We have an example to set for our children. We want to live to see them grow, help them to be somebody. We can’t do that from the grave. If you depend on the gun for surviving, sooner more than later, you die. Trust is not our wish, call us cowards if you will.

– Fitzroy

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