One day in the life of troubled, violent Jamaica
HAD it rained anymore I would have sought the refuge of a cave, to hide myself from the 2012 concerns I had with tropical storm Nicole in 2010.
After a weekend of the uncontrollable rage of nature as the rains let loose on us, as I drove up the hills to the little semi-rural community, I was shocked and pleasantly surprised that the newly asphalted stretch of road had survived the onslaught of millions of gallons of water rushing down the steep incline and eating away at its edge.
After I had parked my car, I gave the usual greetings to those people I saw. They were the same trusted and predictable faces of people who only wanted a little break in life. Most had been denied it.
The sun was out that Tuesday in a magnificent but sufficiently distant fury, but because I was still immersed in the possibility of more rain, more flooding and loss of lives, I was not at peace with myself. As I greeted a few youngsters and eased my lanky frame against the edge of a roadside cooking counter, the Rastaman who had just parked his bike on a rise beside the little community church approached me.
"A t'ree site mi go pon dis morning fi look some work. Bwoy, eh dread! No work nuh really dey but di man dem a offer 15 bills fi a day's work. Mi sey eh dread!"
I question him. Fifteen hundred dollars to work from eight until six. If one has to take the bus, that extracts maybe as much as $200 from the day's pay. If there is a cook shop nearby, the least he is likely to spend $150. He will likely buy a cigarette at $25 and a drink of rum at $80.
Those who are from a different social world are wont to condemn him, but as he takes home just about $1,000 (about US$11) he is expected to conform to what they expect any "normal" person would do.
He owes a small one-door, no-window shop $600. Three weeks ago he did three days of a painting job for a householder. It is hell to collect the $7,500 that the householder owes him. "As soon as I get some funds, I will pay you," is the response.
The householder cannot afford to "tief" utility connections like the little man. If caught, he has too much to lose socially. He pays $15,000 per month for light, $2,000 for water, and his wife and children must eat. Two kids are attending school. It costs him $2,000 per day for petrol and lunch for the children. And there are days when the car cries just as much as the wife complains: "We cannot continue like this!"
Six weeks ago the householder effected a small bit of professional work for a medium-sized company. He calls the company twice per week but he has to bury somewhere deep inside of himself the rage he wants to express as the pleasant voice on the phone says, "We are working on your cheque, Sir. As soon as we have it, you will be contacted." The amount owed is $55,000.
The medium-sized company won a small bid to do a job for an arm of the government. Three months ago he completed the job and handed in his invoice for the amount agreed on - $475,000. Three months later he cannot collect.
The government is in a bind to complete an IMF agreement on an extended fund facility. Until it completes it, it cannot access needed funds from other sources to pay any other than personnel in important areas like the police, doctors in public hospitals, nurses, teachers, firemen, soldiers and others helping to keep this country barely afloat.
And, oh, I forgot - the government ensures that the political directorate is paid on time, every time.
Let's backtrack. The government cannot complete an IMF agreement and one arm of it owes a company $475,000. The company owes a man, the householder, $55,000. The householder owes a painter $7,500. The painter owes a little "trying man" shop $600.
In essence,the government's IMF failure is costing that little shop $600!
Chupski calls me. "Yes, honey," I say on the phone. "Are you OK? she asks.
"Honey, I am not so sure."
"What's happening?" she asks and I say, "It's nothing honey. Just too much for me at times." She tells me to come home.
As I head for the car, I can't help but overhear a discussion about vigilante justice. "Who, mi! Rape my daughter! Mi kill dat #$@^%&*!"
I immerse myself in it and foolishly try to bring "rational thought" to the discussion which has been a feature of Jamaican talk since the brutal rapes recently. Nearby a man is in his own world, talking about his own problems. "Mi wi shub mi rachet inna 'im an bruk it off! A who 'im a ^8%$#@ dis!"
A woman, 30-something-ish walks by a few youngsters and one says something to her. His friends laugh out loud. She explodes.
"Onnu ^*$#@ bwoy onnu. Suck #@$*$&^."
I tune out, or try to.
I stand among another set of people to discuss vigilante "justice" and sanctions for rape. "Missa Mark, castrate dem *@^%$#*."
"And after you castrate them, what happen after dat?" I ask foolishly.
"Dem haffi dead, dead!'I am trying to insert something else but it fails to interest them. I say my goodbyes and as I leave, the shouting among them reaches a crescendo.
As I enter my car a not-so-young man approaches me. He asks for "a cigarette money." I give him $50. In the distance there is the sound of thunder and my hope is that there will be no more rain.
Later at home Chupski wants to know what plans I have for the day as she prepares to leave. "Honey," I say,"I am trying not to be too dejected about my country..."
She cuts me off. "You take things much too serious." She pecks me on the cheek, turns and heads to the door. I watch the car as it moves through the gate.
In the distance, there is another sound of thunder.