Fri | May 25, 2018

Carolyn Cooper | 'Yu tink yu is di prime minister!'

Published:Sunday | May 13, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Jamaicans like to believe we're exceptional. But, in comparison to our CARICOM cousins, we're really not. When it comes to crime, things are quite dismal in Trinidad and Tobago. And if you thought Barbados was doing well economically, you should know there's a treacherous serpent lurking in the picture-perfect paradise fabricated for tourists.

On a recent visit to Barbados, I was alarmed to see that one of my favourite beaches was in serious trouble. Raw sewage has been flowing into the sea for several weeks. As you approach the beach, the stench of neglect hits you. The hotels in the vicinity have been suffering. How could this happen in well-managed Barbados?

We've shamelessly turned Kingston Harbour into a sewer. The seventh largest natural harbour in the world! And we don't know how to manage it efficiently. Barbados is rapidly catching up with us. Their beautiful beaches are the driver of their tourist industry. How could politicians allow this disaster to happen?

Since I know seawater circulates, I decided not to bathe at any of the beaches close by. I treated the usually pristine water the very same way I view Hellshire's deceptively welcoming waves. I stay out of the water. My sister who lives in the US and usually has access to only icy-cold beaches completely disregards my warnings about the water. She acts as though she is bathing in Alexander Bedward's healing stream in August Town.

 

ENDANGERED SPECIES

 

In Trinidad, one of the things that struck me is the crazy way people drive. They are almost as bad as us. Everybody rushing to get ahead, with little regard for the rules of the road! And pedestrians are an endangered species. After standing for quite a while at a clearly marked pedestrian crossing outside the National Library, I decided to take matters into my own hands as cars whizzed by.

I cautiously stepped on to the road and flagged down the cars. A driver who did stop shouted at me, "Yu tink yu is di prime minister!" Mi just kiss mi teet; or, as the Trinis would say, mi steups. They now have a lovely steups emoji with puckered lips. As far as that driver was concerned, only a politician was entitled to the courtesy of using the pedestrian crossing.

We don't take pedestrian crossings seriously in Jamaica either. Both pedestrians and drivers! I recently stopped for some young people standing at a pedestrian crossing. They breezily told me they were not crossing. When I reprimanded them for making me stop for nothing, they unapologetically brushed me off and told me to 'gwaan!' I'm still stopping at pedestrian crossings. It's the law.

Then, believe it or not, I saw a taxi man in Liguanea make a U-turn in the wide pedestrian crossing on Old Hope Road in front of the Lane and Liguanea plazas! I dashed across the road and asked him how he could do that. He didn't even bother to answer me. He tried to drive off with the passenger door still open. I had to jump out of the way to avoid being hit.

A man who overheard the one-sided conversation said, "So dem do all di time." I do know why undisciplined taxi drivers are using the pedestrian crossing as a short cut. The one-way system forces them to go down to Matilda's Corner to make the U-turn. And in the rush to catch a fare, they're not prepared to waste time.

I think the traffic light at the pedestrian crossing needs to be repositioned and access to both plazas reconfigured. Drivers should be able to turn right and left out of the plazas. But I suppose whoever designed the traffic path knows best. At the very least, though, some obstruction should be placed in the pedestrian crossing to stop taxi men from running the risk of hitting an innocent pedestrian.

 

BOCAS LIT FEST

 

I'd gone to Trinidad for the Bocas lit fest where I interviewed the novelist Alex Wheatle. Born in the UK to Jamaican parents, Alex embodies contradictions. He's a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) with impeccable street credentials. When he was only 16, he became a founding member of the Crucial Rocker Sound System. His DJ name was Yardman Irie.

Alex participated in the historic 1981 Brixton insurrection against institutionalised racism and was imprisoned for almost a year. His cellmate, a Rastaman, encouraged him to read empowering books by black authors. That put him on the path to becoming a writer. It was such a joy to see high-school students in the audience lining up to ask Alex questions. They were completely engaged by his story of triumph.

Alex has written 10 inspiring novels that need to be widely read in Jamaica. Reggae music infuses his work. It gave him hope as a youth abandoned in orphanages. If I was prime minister for true, I would invite Alex to motivate young people to find alternatives to crime as a career. They may not choose to be writers. But they can change the script of their own lives.

- Carolyn Cooper is a consultant on culture and development. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and karokupa@gmail.com.