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Brian-Paul Welsh | Towards a culture of development

Published:Monday | June 6, 2016 | 6:00 AM
Brian-Paul Welsh

A mystical conspiracy took me to the Far East for a few days last week. No, I wasn't there for the labour party currently being hosted by the Chinese government. Mine was a far less diplomatic mission. But much like some of my contemporaries, I elected to spend my free time meandering throughout the city, observing the sights and sounds while being fully cognisant that, to the natives, I must have looked like ants in their milk.

I don't think anyone photographed me like a zoo animal as some of my colleagues complained, but, nonetheless, it was a useful educational experience to be given an understanding of how it feels to be a source of curiosity in a land of relative uniformity.

Instead of inundating social media with business tourist excitement, I quietly and soberly contemplated Jamaica's development trajectory, while doing my best to prevent dysentery by avoiding the delectable array of roasted critters on display everywhere.

By the first night, I was able to achieve the peace of mind I ordinarily would only find high in the hills or deep in the bush, far away from the wails of grief on the nightly news. After a few days recalibrating my inner vibrations outside the high-tension environment of Kingston, I dreaded returning to the wild-wild West Indies.

From where I sat, many aspects of life at home seemed quite primitive by comparison. These schoolchildren walked home from school without threatening to kill each other; commuters formed queues for well-maintained, economical and efficient public transportation; women weren't routinely sexually abused on the streets; motor vehicle operators didn't carry out murder-suicides daily; and people overall seemed less burdened by concerns of unnatural death, poverty, or suffering than many of us at home.

Generally, it seemed the population was content and comfortable, quietly enjoying the simple things like going grocery shopping with grandma and walking the dog while texting sweetheart, not having to be preoccupied with defending life and limb from marauding beasts, as so many are in Jamaica.

 

VULGAR BUSINESS PRACTICE

 

We encourage foreigners to come to Jamaica and feel all right, but it seems unbeknown to those behind the slogan, most visitors were probably all right before they got here. In this alternative tourist reality, we hypnotise visitors with sex, then cure them in the sea. We then marinate them in rum while massaging their egos, hoping they will release their inhibitions inside our coffers. It's a really vulgar business practice, but we can disarm even the most sceptical with an island smile as bright and penetrating as the sun.

Some adventurous ones might stray from the camp, seduced by the charm of a local, but they soon realise that with Anansi as a tour guide, they are more likely to bleed dry or drown in their own tears.

What we need is an expansion of how we define cultural development, so that it can extend into inculcating values and attitudes that are conducive to the kind of national development we aspire to achieve.

The collective indiscipline that we accept as normal, the hostility we treat as endemic, and the dishonesty we embrace as part of our style are all working to erode the development dream much faster than we can fantasise.

Returning to Jamaica from time spent overseas usually feels like a trip into antiquity. Sometimes because of the changing time zones, but usually because of the degeneration of values one observes the closer one gets to 'yaad'. You begin to sense Jamaica in the atmosphere starting at the airline counter, amplifying in intensity when gathered in the departure area, and, once landed, with continuous and increasing antagonism each day.

On the morning of my departure, as I stood on the seashore bathing in first light, I looked into my country's future with hope and trepidation. My love for Jamaica ignited hope in my heart that through my words and actions, I will positively contribute to the development of my nation, but the latest news of senseless violence flooded my mind with concerns that my flame could soon be extinguished.

Though we often boast to foreigners that we live where they vacation, so many of us can never afford to take a vacation where we live, and a greater portion have already redefined paradise and are hastily making their way there. For them, Jamaica is a place to vacation, never to live.

- Brian-Paul Welsh is a writer and public affairs commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and brianpaul.welsh@gmail.com, or tweet @islandcynic.