Thu | Mar 22, 2018

Brian-Paul Welsh | Jamaica in the toilet

Published:Tuesday | November 21, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Recently, I had occasion to visit the Jamaican High Commission in a major metropolitan city in 'farrin'. I knew I was in the right place when I noticed the giant Jamaican flag waving proudly outside the fancy building with the steep staircase and an 'out of service' sign scribbled in red ink above the disabled access elevator.

Once inside, I was pleasantly surprised to find the longstanding tradition of aimless congregation while a mildly amusing television programme played in the background, partly to relieve restlessness among the captive herd. It amazed me, though perhaps it shouldn't have, that even in this far-flung city where everyone else has adapted to a certain business ethos, Jamaicans still insisted on loyalty to our native style of sitting and waiting, simmering and stewing, until the moment an explosive outburst from one frustrated person breaks the tension and threatens to turn violent.

For a moment, I pondered whether this transplanted tradition was indeed an example of true patriotism since this familiar scene is so commonly re-enacted in tax offices and police stations islandwide.

Pausing to reflect on this cultural idiosyncrasy, the way our Jamaican spirit never dissipates even after extraction from the rock, I smiled when I remembered all the strangers I had observed blowing their proverbial tops in institutions of supposed business after enduring hours of an agonising and unnecessary wait, coupled with the aloofness and nonchalance that have come to typify the attitude of the staff in such spaces.

I also remembered all the memorable occasions I might have been perceived as that belligerent stranger by another curious onlooker during the rare but memorable occasions where my wrath could no longer be contained and was best expressed by more colourful language betraying my more typical reserved demeanour.




While reflecting on this peculiar cultural retention I had hitherto thought was left at home but was in fact being faithfully replicated abroad, I felt a pang of discomfort in my stomach, perhaps nerves or indigestion. In any event, I knew I needed some time alone to contemplate this feeling, so I asked the steely-eyed receptionist for use of the rest, room, and she grudgingly acquiesced.

Crossing the threshold from the pristine office environment and entering the inner workings of the organisation, navigating its internal plumbing as it were, revealed a deeper reality beyond the lovely facade of officialdom. The dingy bathroom stood in stark contrast to carefully curated office environs and served as a metaphor for the false public image of this nation, the Jamaica that dwells in the political imagination, the stench and disorder we so skilfully mask but are still unable to fully cover.

This unexpected revelation reinforced something I had been pondering while reading news of the poor woman in Trelawny that was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after unsuccessfully attempting to get urgent police intervention in the heinous sexual crime perpetrated against her child. Listening on radio to the smug satisfaction of the JCF spokesman as he justified the arrest as punishment for her supposed misbehaviour while failing to sufficiently address the matter of immediate concern, which was redress for the victimised child, I couldn't help but recall all the other times we betrayed good sense in order to maintain the illusion of propriety.

The act of cruelty that is alleged to have taken place with those children in that bathroom in Clark's Town, Trelawny, as well as the clumsy and callous reactions of the adults in the aftermath, represents the inadequacies of Jamaica's justice system, as well as the pervading cultural doctrine that equitable treatment is only given to those with clean hands, as well as clean mouths.




We, the people, are habitually treated unjustly, ignored in our attempts to seek restitution, and then further humiliated when our cries for justice are themselves penalised. The state screws us over and over again while continuously scolding us for our reactions to the abuse. So often we arbitrarily lose the rights to which are supposedly entitled and then blamed for causing the unjust outcome on ourselves.

That is the problem with the Clark's Town case, the killing of the heavily pregnant Kayann Lamont in St Thomas, and the many other sad examples revealing our dark underbelly, the septic innards of this island paradise that we try unsuccessfully to disguise.

What lessons will those in leadership learn from this week's moral panic? Will these frequent and tragic events serve as catalysts for change, or are we as Jamaicans content to repeat the same script at regular intervals with a different cast?

- Brian-Paul Welsh is a writer and public affairs commentator. Email feedback to and, or tweet @islandycynic.