Moving Back to Jamaica

A blog about my Move Back to Jamaica after 20+ years of living in the US. Most of the articles focus on the period from 2005-2009 when the transition was new, and at it's most challenging.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Curiously Absent Skill

Last week a popular radio talk show host and lecturer was kidnapped at gunpoint at UWI.

His Prado (vehicle) and licensed firearm were stolen and he was released unharmed, but quite shaken up. During his 2-3 hour ordeal, they decided not to kill him because he told them who he was, “Ragashanti.” They decided to show mercy on his life because “him is de one dat help out the ghetto youts dem pon radio.’’ (trans: he is the one who helps ghetto youths on his radio talk show.)

Apparently they had listened to his show. One of the 2 gunmen then decided that he could benefit from some expert coaching. He said, essentially, “You should not be carrying a gun, because it only attracts bad men like me who will come after you to get it.”

0K, fair enough.

Ragashanti, who was at this point in his trunk tied up, was in no position to reject some helpful advice. However, the other kidnapper disagreed. He said, essentially, “No! Don’t follow that advice – there are some very bad people out here and you must protect yourself.”

They added to their advice when they released him unharmed, admonishing and trying to encourage him by saying: “Don’t take this as a reason to migrate from Jamaica – we need people like you to stay and help to build the country.”

Oh, what sweet, delicious Caribbean irony.

I missed it while living abroad, where stupidity and greed are often so intertwined that the latter overshadows the former. Yet, I find, here in Jamaica, what appears to be me to be an appalling and very obvious stupidity.

Moving Back to Jamaica has meant dealing with a kind of insane blend of contradictions that blows the circuits of the rational mind.

Like the Mini bus drivers who I can see flying down Constant Spring Road on the wrong side of the street, putting their customers lives at risk to save a few minutes – apparently, scaring them equates to good service.

Or, the argument that a domestic helper got into with my friend, when a caterer she hired mistakenly gave her an avocado. She was ready to fight with my friend to preserve her right to keep the avocado – job be damned!

Or like people who throw their rubbish in a gully alongside their community, only to complain about the flooding it causes when heavy rains come.

Or like my wife’s doctor who, upon seeing her at 12:30pm for her 8:30am appointment, started off the visit with a lengthy account. Apparently, the prior patient had insisted on an apology for the long delay before being treated. “The nerve of these patients who try to rush me…” She then went into a lengthy defense of her personal character, described the sacrifices she is making to provide each patient with personal care that ’’no-one cares about.”

To her credit, she broke from her rant for 10 minutes to actually practice some medicine… but once she was done with the unpleasant business of actually treating my wife, she resumed her attack on her unreasonable customers.

It is fair to report that my wife, a holder of three degrees, was stunned into silence by the irony. She is now looking for a new physician.

So, Moving Back has meant dealing with wild contradictions, where a madman stoning cars on the morning commute can quickly remind a returnee that under the thin veneer of an apparently civilized society lies a boiling brew of mayhem, murder and madness. A pressure-cooker that appears quietly stable on the outside is really a boiling inferno on the inside. Every few minutes, the steam escapes, startling the unaware. More rarely, the entire lid blows off with a bang, and oxtail stew and beans are plastering all over the ceiling.

There is a civility that I miss from living in America, but not so much for its apparent order. After all, the Rodney King episode helped make me scared to this day of white policemen, and remind me that there is a pressurized situation in the U.S. also.

Instead, I miss the tendency of a critical number of people to be self-reflective. In other words, we in Jamaica don’t ask ourselves what we could do differently often enough. We especially avoid these kinds of questions when things are going badly, and this a behaviour that afflicts everyone – all of us – from gunmen ro madmen, and from doctors to domestics.

Our reluctance to pursue these inner questions leaves the wild contradictions in our lives firmly place. It therefore means that they never get resolved on a national scale.

My own thought on the source of all this may not matter one bit, but here it is anyway.

I believe we are a relatively unreflective people, because most of us are given The Answer to all possible reflections when we are very, very young.

The Answer?

We are bad, sinful, evil and wicked. No better than filthy rags. Condemned.

Why bother ask the question when we already all know The Answer?

Transforming our Jamaica may start with questioning this particular conclusion, changing The Answer to “One Possible Answer” and having the courage to challenge ourselves to grow, without fearing that the very questions we are asking will somehow condemn us to hell.

Therein lies our freedom.

P.S. After I wrote this blog, the second shooting in a year, outside my front gate, took place and a taxi-man was shot by four gunmen, trying to steal his earnings. I estimate that most taxi-men don’t carry around more than about J$2,000 (US$30) at that time of night, for obvious reasons. Didn’t the gunmen know that?

P.S. 2 This all makes me wonder where I am still caught up by The Answer...

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