Tue | Feb 20, 2018

Mark Ricketts | The two sides of Jamaica

Published:Sunday | December 11, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Mark Ricketts

"Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore." - Andre Gide, French Nobel Prize winner in literature

I landed in Kingston a few weeks ago to enjoy Christmas and New Year's in the land of my birth. Shortly after my arrival, I went to the funeral of Selvin Goldson, who, like so many Jamaicans, held a promise of a Jamaica with huge potential and uncharted possibilities. Based on his achievements, he was justified in doing so.

I might have been 16 or so when I first met Goldson and his lifelong friend and banking partner Douglas Ffolkes, at a youth hall gathering affiliated with the Half-Way Tree Parish Church. Goldson was either at Oberlin or Excelsior High School. I was at Jamaica College then, having not yet added Calabar to my resume, and Ffolkes was at KC, where Fortis, 'every time', was the acknowledged greeting of the purple and white.

Goldson and Ffokes got Royal Bank of Canada scholarships to the University of the West Indies and went on to become distinguished managers of the bank. Speaking at the funeral, Ffolkes embraced the theme that his friend gave hope to our country and benefited from the success that Jamaica, in its own unique way, can bestow on its citizens.

Such a good feeling to know what is possible as far as the articulated hopes and dreams of people today, who might be as young as Goldson was, when, as a teenager, he was excited by the promise of a Jamaica, bountiful and resilient.

A few days later, the French Embassy held its Touch of France. The ambassador, Jean-Michel Despax, and Jean-Pierre Bel, the French president's special envoy for Latin America and the Caribbean, were effusive in their praise of our country's warmth and hospitality. They spoke glowingly of Jamaica's successes in macro-economic stabilisation policies during the last three years. They felt good about the Jamaica-France relationship and were ecstatic about the planned Jamaica Week in Paris' huge Philharmonic Hall next year.




They made a persuasive case that Jamaica was on the cusp of a breakthrough given the recent agreement signed with the IMF, the upgrading of the country's credit rating by Moody's, heightened expectations by the Economic Growth Council, and the continued increases in business and consumer confidence. As testament to the sense of hope that all this engendered the Special Envoy informed the gathering that there are quite a few investment plans by French companies in the pipeline.

Listening to the articulated passion of the French and the conviction with which they were buoyed by Jamaica's current and future prospects, one had to feel good about coming home for the holidays. Any equivocation on my part was dispelled by the pride one felt listening to our foreign minister, Kamina Johnson Smith, speaking fluently in French and English as she thanked the French government, the French Embassy, and all those involved in making the evening such a success.

What a fantastic homecoming I had, especially when I received a classical treat from Paulette Bellamy, Angel Soria Diaz, the Samuel Felsted Chamber Orchestra, and Peter Ashbourne.

Then the contrast: the other side of Jamaica, not in terms of rich or poor, but in terms of vulnerability, arising not just from an isolated incident but from frequency of occurrence.

The previous Thursday, I had gone early to Coronation Market and was told that passengers on a Coaster bus in the vicinity of Torrington Bridge, the morning before, had been held up by a gunman and cell phones taken. The conductor was robbed of all his cash.

According to those telling me the story, the police, like them, were not surprised, as it happens quite often but never made the news. It is the frequency of such occurrences among the vulnerable that underscores the other side of Jamaica.

There is a resignation and a fear among our schoolchildren and adults who have to walk long distances or take the bus to work or school. Many say, with Christmas approaching, things are going to get worse, and I wonder whether the transport minister and the minister of national security and owners of Coaster bus franchises could not allay the fears of the commuting public by assuring them that unidentifiable armed guards would be on board.

It is not just the regularity of incidents on buses. Recently, I was driving on Olivier Road with two other passengers in the car. We were in a slow-moving line of traffic near the Constant Spring Golf Club, headed towards Manor Park.

Suddenly, I observed a motorbike parked in the middle of the opposite lane of the road with a rider seated on it. In a split second, I noticed a man running, running with undue haste, he hurled himself onto the back of the bike and both rider and runner took off. By the time everyone realised what had happened, we saw a woman, pained, distraught, and dazed. She was a helper who had walked a long distance from work.

Her purse with $100 to pay her bus fare on the final leg of her journey had been snatched. People were helpful, but that was of little consolation. She might be poor but handouts were not what she wanted. She wanted her dignity, not the perceived shame and attention of onlookers.

As one got to talking, it became obvious how many people walking home in the evenings, who we never hear about, are preyed upon. Wallets and handbags stolen are cut up and thrown into bushes. But people also talk about their own efforts to safeguard themselves by walking in groups away from the edge of the sidewalk, making it harder for bicyclists or bikers to snatch their belongings. They mentioned increased police presence in the more vulnerable areas, but then the police can't be everywhere.

What I have a problem with is reconciling the pathos and the harmony of last Sunday's concert with the cruelty that is unleashed on so many who are innocent. I suppose comfort or consolation can be taken from the words of Christine Lagarde, IMF's managing director. "Jamaica is a country whose culture has captivated the globe. It is a country of enchanting beauty with a freshness and grace that stirs the soul.

Its people are blessed with a gift of inspiration. It is so rare to find so much talent packed into such a small space."

• Mark Ricketts, economist, author and lecturer living in California, was chief economist of the Vancouver Board of Trade in Canada; deputy chairman of the Jamaica Stock Exchange; and assistant editor of the Financial Post, Canada's largest financial weekly newspaper. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and rckttsmrk@yahoo.com.