Thu | Sep 21, 2017

What went wrong?

Published:Monday | September 7, 2015 | 9:00 AM

Jamaicans all over the world held their collective breaths as Usain Bolt competed in the 100m and then the 200m events at the World Championships in Beijing, China. Naturally, we all wanted him to win.

He is one of us, he is from humble beginnings, he is our sports hero, he is our World champion, he had physical issues, he is drug-free and his main rival is a foreigner who has been suspended from athletics twice due to doping bans, yet still competes. We were elated when he prevailed.

Whether or not they medalled, all our athletes made us proud. They were disciplined, worked extremely hard, sacrificed, focused and displayed camaraderie. Wouldn't it be great if those qualities could be practised by most Jamaicans?

International competitions always highlight the stark differences between our elite athletes and the reality of life in Jamaica. We cheer them on knowing that the discipline and hard work that made them world stars reside within us. If only we could learn from them, we would be far better off than we are today.

 

German journalist

 

I recently met a German journalist who included me in the interviews that he conducted for a feature article on Jamaica. As he sat in front of me, he expressed his surprise and disappointment in what he found here. With genuine concern etched on his face, he stared at me as he sought answers to his confusion.

The impression the world has of us, as a people, is gleaned from great and influential personalities like Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley and several of our top athletes. Our tourism product portrays us as a happy, fun-loving nation, filled with pleasant and helpful people who help our visitors to experience our rich culture, food, entertainment and frolic on our pristine white sand beaches under the rays of a warm sun. And our athletic dominance makes people think that we are a nation of high achievers.

This poor German journalist expected an organised and disciplined country with friendly, hard-working and self-reliant people. He expected honest people who boast a proud distinguished heritage. He expected many wise men brimming with knowledge of the ages. He expected pearls of wisdom to fall from the mouths of many Jamaicans.

Contorted by the mystery that he faced, his eyebrows expressed his dismay as they moved up and down, unevenly and then evenly, together, then apart, frowned and then elevated in surprise in synchrony with his distraught emotional utterances.

In spite of several days in our hot sunlight, when he spoke, his face paled and faint green veins appeared as he struggled to understand the discrepancy between our potential greatness and our grim and glum reality.

He was flabbergasted by the indiscipline everywhere. He was floored by the foul garbage on the streets. He was taken aback by the ubiquitous mendicancy.

 

Perplexed by crime

 

The constant reports of murders and many other serious crimes in such a small and talented country mystified him. The interminable and persistent harassment at every turn was extremely disturbing to him. The hopeless poverty; the palpable collective depression. The feeling that we are going nowhere as a nation was foremost in his mind.

He simply could not come to grips with how a country full of talented individuals came to this. He needed answers as to why our vibrancy had been extinguished so effectively. There were no overt signs of the Jamaica that we portrayed. It was all a facade to him now. Disillusioned and concerned, almost morose, he asked, "What happened? What went wrong?"

I could only think of one explanation for all that he observed. I blamed it on our kind of politics. We have some truly genuine and sacrificial politicians but the entrenched 'system' has produced many dependent, non-productive, frustrated, hateful, corrupt, dishonest, sometimes violent, alienated, helpless and 'don't-care' Jamaicans.

Until we change our mindset, we are never going to progress. We need to start with discipline and accountability; then take it from there. I hope that we learn before it's too late.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.