Sat | Oct 19, 2019

Carolyn Cooper | Papine Market stalls destroyed by KSAMC

Published:Sunday | October 6, 2019 | 12:30 AM
Carolyn Cooper

Two Saturdays ago, I got a call from one of the vendors at Papine Market. He wanted to know if I was planning to come because there was a ‘situation’ he wanted me to know about. He did not elaborate. When I got there, I was greeted by several angry vendors who reported that their stalls were destroyed by the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation.

From what I got to understand, vendors who sell inside Papine Market were given written notice on Tuesday, September 17 that the market was going to be washed on Sunday, September 22. The information was also posted on the notice board. Vendors who sell in the parking lot on Fridays and/or Saturdays were informed by word of mouth on September 20 and/or 21.

Unbeknownst to the outdoor vendors, washing of the market also included the parking lot. Their stalls were left unattended. They were broken up and thrown away. Fun fact: ‘unbeknownst’ is a perfectly good English word. It has died out of use in England but is still tecking life in Jamaica.

The Jamaican linguist, Frederic Cassidy, wrote a fascinating book, Jamaica Talk: Three Hundred Years of the English Language in Jamaica, which was published in 1961. Among other entertaining stories, Cassidy documents many of these old-fashioned English words that are still in style in Jamaica. Paraventure, you may know his informative book. That’s another one of those outdated English words. It comes from Latin: ‘per’ or ‘par’ meaning ‘by’ and ‘aventure’ meaning ‘chance.’ It means ‘perhaps.’

A DIFFERENT STORY

Unfortunately for the outdoor vendors, it seems as if they did not have the chance to secure their stalls. That is their version of what happened. But the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC) tells a different story. All vendors were informed that the market was going to be washed inside and out. So the outdoor vendors should have looked after their property.

But where were they supposed to put the stalls? Inside the market? I find it hard to believe that a vendor who has invested anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 in a stall would willingly leave it at risk of being destroyed. Were vendors told, specifically, that the parking lot was going to be washed? Then to add insult to injury, the same week the stalls were thrown out, the vendors were still asked to pay the usual market fee.

As was to be expected, many of them protested vigorously and refused to pay. In order to do business as usual, some vendors were forced to rent stalls from vendors inside the market. Or they had to lay out their produce on the ground. This was certainly not ideal.

Furthermore, I was told that the parking lot was full of so much garbage it all had to be washed away – including the stalls. But talking about garbage! The market’s open-air concrete garbage dump is a complete disgrace. It seems as if garbage is not collected regularly. Every Friday and Saturday, the dump is piled high. If the KSAMC really wants to get rid of rubbish, the dump should be their priority, not the vendors’ stalls.

Some enterprising person should set up a composting business in markets across Jamaica. So much foodstuff goes to waste! It could all be recycled and turned into valuable fertiliser instead of adding to the high volume of solid waste that ends up in dumps. And valuable jobs could be easily created from recycling. It just takes imagination.

LOCKED OUT OF THE MARKET

Then the vendors’ woes didn’t end with the destruction of their stalls. Last Friday, when they arrived at the market, they discovered that the gate to the parking lot was locked. They could not go in to sell if they did not pay an outstanding annual registration fee of $3,000. This was on top of the usual two-day fee. The vendors were not amused. Some paid the registration fee but others protested. They refused to hand over $3,000 before they made a single sale for the day.

Why is the KSAMC treating market vendors so badly? Does the corporation not understand the fundamental role of traditional markets in the Jamaican economy? Many vendors are self-employed farmers who know that food security is an essential element of economic freedom. And they bring their goods to market, cutting out the middle person.

Our long-established market system is one of the positive legacies of the era of slavery. Our ancestors were given access to provision grounds so that they could grow their own food. This system reduced the food bill of plantation owners. It also allowed enslaved Africans to regain a measure of economic power. They controlled the surplus produce and established markets, earning income that enabled many of them to buy their freedom. Redemption!

Kingston’s oldest market is named Redemption Ground. Paraventure, it signifies freedom from sin or slavery! Or both! October is Heritage Month. Instead of harassing vendors, the KSAMC should pay respect to farmers and vendors who work so hard to put high-quality local food on our table.

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