Jamaica Requires Distance to Appreciate It

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Basil Waine Kong

During February, I hosted a group of friends (golfers from the United States) and want to share their perspective about their experience. There was no end to the friendly bantering and camaraderie as they raved about the absolutely first class golf experience with incredible vistas and caddies who were accommodating and knowledgeable about the game. The Villas were grand and staffed by expert cooks who offered magnificent meals, good service and hassle free living. But a trip to downtown Montego Bay, visiting various destinations and becoming familiar with Jamaica’s history, politics, culture and economy, convinced them that Jamaica requires a little distance to appreciate it.

Our country of wood and water is characterized by a mountainous topography that is majestic and an awesome verdure splendor dotted with flowers until you experience bauxite waste, the smell of rotting garbage and shanties along our river banks. As aficionados of good taste and beauty, they appreciated that an infinite variety of fruits and flowers flourish luxuriantly all year round but did not appreciate our tedious procedures and bureaucracy. They all agreed that our white sand beaches are the best in the world until their solitude was repeatedly disturbed by beggars and hustlers selling valueless trinkets and herbs.

The general impression of my friends is that Jamaicans have a spirited attitude and are generally engaging. When they came face to face with death by inconsiderate suicidal drivers who claim the roads only for themselves and will insult those who do not get out of their way, my friends wondered if we have Jekyll and Hyde personalities. (One citizen is killed each day from automobile accidents). As my friends were escaping drifts of snow and ice in the United States, they exited our modern airport facilities in worshipful admiration, went into ecstasy and fell into rapture over the beauty of our island’s perpetual summer and proclaimed it a paradise until they encountered our petty crimes and hungry children begging on our streets. A lovely cloudless blue sky day accompanied by a gentle cool breeze was obliterated by the blight of aggressive, undisciplined, contentious and disorderly vendors and street-side ginalds.

A reading of our Newspapers revealed the following:
1. Dangerous and deadly criminal networks are tolerated by our political leaders leading to the death and demise of thousands of our citizens.
2. Four Jamaicans are murdered annually and three more are missing and presumed dead including our vulnerable children. One citizen is killed by our police each day. By comparison, New York City with four times as many people, have only one homicide per day.
3. The police do not help when citizens are expelled from their homes by Dons and gangs simply because they are deemed to support the wrong political party.
4. Squatter communities with unsightly zinc shanties are here and there and everywhere because of whole scale poverty and homelessness across the length and breadth of Jamaica.
5. Businesses and business owners are constantly being harassed for protection money and must add the expense of “security” to their already burdensome cost of doing business because of heavy utility costs and harassing government bureaucracy.
6. One out of three Jamaicans cannot read or write. We further burden them by giving most of our young men police records that make them ineligible to ever leave the country or find employment.
7. We have a penchant for blaming the victims. We do not provide toilet facilities for poor people and when they have to “make do”, they are regarded as nasty. We spend our educational budget on the talented twenty percent who abandon the country after they complete their education but the Ministry of Education will not provide employable skills for those who must stay and then blame them for not being gainfully employed.

Is this any way to run a country? The question they ask is: “How can a country with so much talent and natural resources be so badly managed?”

I recommend to them that if they want to appreciate Jamaica and our endless sunshine and bountiful rains, that they do not see it up close and personal. The wonders of our island is truly stupendous but our under belly is horrendous. We are like a lighthouse, forever focused externally while our base is ignored.

According to Betty Ann Blaine: “It is time to call a spade a spade, and lend our hearts and voices to a call for justice to be served against those who have done harm to our people and our country, while we seek at the same time to fix the systems and structures necessary to preserve life and to promote prosperity.”
(“Crimes Against Humanity”, Jamaica Observer, Tuesday, March 8, 2011)

Bullet Columnist Basil Waine Kong has written several pieces for this journal and especially likes to expound on his favorite subject: his beloved Jamaica. He is a former Atlien (resident of Atlanta GA), and was the CEO of the Association of Black Cardiologists (ABC) for 22 years before his retirement in 2008 to return to Jamaica. This article is reprinted with his permission from his blogsite; Coming in From the Cold… Bob Marley

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