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Impressions of the new highway and Garvey

LANCE NEITA

Sunday, August 24, 2014    

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DRIVING on the new Moneague to Ewarton highway, two days after it was opened, I had a smooth and uneventful ride from the Moneague end and was quite happy with the layout as the road snaked its way through virtually virgin country untouched by any urban development.

We saw little vehicular traffic, but that was to be expected on a Friday morning around 10:00 am. Whatever trucks that there were had already gone through. In fact, I wondered about the absence of any truck, bus or heavy duty traffic even at that time of the morning.

At present it's deserted country and you drive for miles without seeing anyone to wave to or to stop and purchase your usual Mount Rosser fruits and drinks. In fact, I kind of missed the personalised Mount Rosser track, the people counting cars, the vendors, the stalls, the black mangoes at every corner, and that famous ripe banana stop where the hill breaks before you descend into St Catherine.

But the new highway holds promise for vast commercial and industrial development and urban settlement, as there are acres and acres of land on either side waiting for capitalisation. As I drove along the empty hinterlands I wondered where they were going to put the Faith's Pen vendors that have been promised removal and resettlement. The road is beautifully wide, smooth and straight; a four-lane track with a divider that should make it safe until Johnny Foolfool, with his e-type machine, discovers it. But it's also lonely, and the terrain and the grade doesn't tempt you to stop, so I don't see much use or value in recreating Faith's Pen at this time, the area does not yet look customer-friendly.

A talking point is the Chinese plaza-style offices located midway the journey — no doubt the head offices of the Chinese construction firm, all dressed up with flags and Chinese language. My wife jokes that this is typical of the business acumen of our friends. They have made sure to open up a 'Chiney' shop before anybody else gets the idea.

Then again, I noticed the escape routes alongside the highway, meant to rescue trucks that may lose brake control, but I thought the tracks were a bit steep and wondered what would happen to a truck taking the climb, ending up at the level spot, and finding itself running backwards on to the highway.

Pretty soon we found ourselves in familiar territory as we approached Bog Walk with more time on our hands and a guarantee that I would make my Kingston appointment, this time.

The return trip was more eventful. Apparently this is the steeper side. And, within the first two miles, I passed two minibuses broken down with disgruntled passengers pouring out into the road muttering curses, not at the driver, but at the unforgiving gradient. Then, further up the road, a motorist parked and stared into his engine — a victim of the incline, and doomed to a late Friday evening date with a mechanic.

It was at that point I recalled a conversation on my veranda three years ago with two truck owners who predicted that, based on their experience from driving on roads all over Jamaica, the steep gradient was going to give motorists, particularly truckers, a difficult time. This was not their opinion alone, it was shared by other colleagues who were aware of the logistics and were concerned that the much-anticipated highway, as designed, could become a Trojan horse or a white elephant for heavy-duty vehicle operators.

Well, with night coming and no lights on the highway as yet, I soldiered on and made it quite comfortably into Moneague, timing the bypass at 19 minutes for an old slow coach like me. Next time around I will take the Mount Rosser road to compare times, but in this instance I believe I saved at least 15 minutes.

How do you find the highway? [And, by the way, we need some directional signs coming from the Moneague/Ocho Rios end to find the roundabout.] If you have a good car and a reasonably tuned engine you'll cross it. If you have a full load while driving a truck or bus, then watch your temperature gauge and pray. The argument goes that there is nothing wrong with the road, it's your vehicle that is at fault. I find that a bit disingenuous, because all taxpayers and toll payers expect that the Jamaican roads should be able to accommodate vehicles that pass the fitness test. And, unless the Moneague/Ewarton highway is going to be used as a test-drive spot by the motor examiners, the highway won't find too many takers.

Still, driving through the new highway has opened up vistas that are quite beautiful and expansive and provides a new and interesting look at scenery we couldn't see before. They say that an island without mountains gives up all its secrets, hence the attractiveness and romantic allure of Jamaica's scenery. Ewarton itself and its surrounding districts lie in a basin, but from vantage points en route you get glimpses of the St John's mountain range with its irregular and broken ridge lines created by its limestone characteristics and bauxite cockpits. No glimpses of the Rio Pedro — a tributary of the Rio Cobre — or the Rio Cobre itself, which almost traverses the parish of St Catherine. I was also hoping to get a view of the Moneague lake, but that was not possible owing to the steep slopes of borderland as you enter that town.

In the meantime, the toll is coming as the timekeeper ticks away and September 1 approaches. Like every new development in Jamaica, and indeed throughout history and across the world, the new highway has sparked controversy. Will the Faith's Pen vendors have the last laugh? Will it be a case of smart drivers take the highway, and the devil take the hindmost? Opportunities come with challenges, and the highway has opened up both. Jamaicans are smart and will know which one to choose.

Seaga and Garvey

With all the activity and celebrations surrounding the 100th anniversary of the founding of Garvey's United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), we must acknowledge the outstanding leadership role played by Edward Seaga in refocusing the attention of the nation in the early 1960s on the contribution of this great man to Jamaica and to the world.

As a sociologist who understood more than most the racial and social dilemmas that confronted Jamaica as we entered Independence, Seaga, as minister of development and welfare in the then Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Cabinet, saw the need for the Jamaican 'underclass' majority to strengthen its self-confidence by affirming its pride in its black roots.

As he put it, early in 1964 he was visited by one Leslie Alexander, a former UNIA officer, who was concerned that Garvey's first and second wives, Amy Ashwood and Amy Jacques, had expressed a desire to remove Garvey's body from its London tomb and send it to Africa.

Alexander sold the idea to Seaga of re-interring the remains in Jamaica, but they both realised that they would have to persuade the wives to agree. This took some time and discussion, but eventually the ladies agreed, under terms of confidentiality, and Seaga took the proposal to Cabinet. Prime Minister Bustamante immediately agreed and the necessary arrangements were made for shipment to Jamaica.

The embalmed remains were returned to Jamaica on November 10, 1964. There was a state-like reception at Palisadoes and the casket transported across the harbour to Victoria Pier (Kingston downtown). It was then taken to the North Street Roman Catholic cathedral for four days of mourning, but as Seaga reports in his biography, mischief was afoot.

Rumours were spread that the body was not Garvey's, but a log in the casket — a story which gained ground "partly because of envy and resentment among political opponents and some UNIA affiliates that this project was being undertaken by a white man".

The day before the interment Seaga took up a position beside the casket in the church, greeting everyone who filed by. Then, when he saw the UNIA officials approaching, he took a screwdriver and quietly removed the screws to remove the plate and reveal the face.

"I was taking a great chance. Suppose Garvey's face was unrecognisable, or worse yet, hideously disfigured?" he wrote.

"But the gods, so to speak, were with me." The features were intact. And, as leaders, including Z Munroe Scarlett peered through the window, Scarlett looked at Seaga and said: "It's him, it's him."

It was a great moment of relief, but the drama was not quite yet over. As, the next morning, the big day, he got a frantic call from Frank Hill, chairman of the National Trust, that the gravediggers had dug the grave in a north-south alignment — the position for burying executed criminals. The ceremony was a few hours away. "Take every step to correct; possible or impossible," he instructed Hill. It was done, and a new vault was prepared post-haste, traversing the first vault to create the figure of a cross.

Thirty thousand people thronged Heroes' Park later that afternoon to witness the enshrinement. Dignitaries included government, church, family, and delegates from England, Canada, Australia, the USA, Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Malta, and Malaysia.

Seaga's tribute at the service is instructional:

"Garvey's stage was not Jamaica: it was the continents of coloured peoples. Yet he is a national hero, and his works carried a message which helped to shape and structure the whole character of the people of his own country, among millions of the other people throughout the world...

"There are those who shape the character of a nation and so build and unleash the spirit of the people that the germ of their works and thoughts affects all aspects of a nation's life. Of such was the man Marcus Garvey."

Lance Neita is a public relations and communications specialist. Comments to the Observer or to lanceneita@hotmail.com

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