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Family land all but forgotten! - Jamaicans opt to live in Kingston slums rather than return to their rural roots

Published:Sunday | May 17, 2015 | 12:00 AMCorey Robinson
Inside one of the many tenement yards in the Corporate Area where persons from rural Jamaica now call home.
Easton Gordon, who plans to return to Content, St Ann to set up a shop.
Vincent Edwards stands at the entrance of the shack he now calls home in George's Lane in Central Kingston.
Vincent Edwards stands at the entrance of the shack he now calls home in George's Lane in Central Kingston with the house he is to move into, in the background.

Burdened by the scourge of poverty in the harsh inner-cities of Kingston, complaining daily about the struggle to survive, scores of Jamaicans, who own or have access to large tracts of family land in rural parishes, cling to the tattered overcrowded slums, letting go of any promise of returning to arable land in the island's lush countrysides.

Even if they could return to the land, in a reversal of the rural/urban migration, they are adamant that they are not going to live "in the country", not now, not ever again.

In many cases, these persons are elderly, having left their rural family homes decades ago in search of a better life in Kingston.

But years later, their burning dreams of making it rich in Kingston reduced to flickering embers, they have decided to remain in the slums rather than returning to rural living and even those who say they plan to return to their roots spend years putting this off for one reason or another.

"To tell you the truth, nothing not down there so fi me do. Me would a struggle down there because no work not there, and nobody not going to employ me at my age," explained Vincent Edwards, a resident of George's Lane, a tough ramshackle community in central Kingston.

Edwards, 71, moved to Kingston from Woodpark, St Mary, in 1959, and since then has been bouncing from one tenement yard to the next in Kingston and St Catherine, latching on to any job he can find in an effort to make ends meet.

"I have 'bout half square a land a country. That is about one chain long by half chain," explained the elderly man. "That mean you can build a two bedroom or a three bedroom with kitchen and bathroom on it," said Edwards as he noted that the land was passed on to him from his parents who shared it between him and an uncle who is now deceased.

The land is habitable and it has a mixture of fruit trees, but Edwards has forfeited all interest in it to his daughter. "It is up to her to survey it and deal with it," declared Edwards whose birthday is in June.

"If me go a country now, who me ago have fi support me? And me nah go be able to make a bread so me can eat and drink. So it no mek sense," argued the elderly man, who is supported by an adult daughter and son, also living in harsh conditions in Kingston.


garrison tough


"The garrison really tough now. Nothing nah gwaan, no work nah gwaan for nobody. You can't get nothing to do whether you old or you young," declared Edwards. "But you still can try find a way here. It ago worse innah the country. Me know that," added Edwards who plans to shortly move into a new one-bedroom structure at the rear of the premises he has lived for many years.

This is the third time he will be relocating within the yard, having occupied a room at the front for decades before moving to the hovel he now occupies. The new structure is being built by his son, and Edwards welcomed it with a smile last Tuesday.

For starters, the new structure is a mixture of concrete and wood, a stark contrast to the rotting board dwelling in which he now lays his head.

It is freshly painted, evenly tiled and it does not give way to the morning sun rays seeping through small cracks in the walls as he faces now. Most importantly, however, is that the new house will have a firm zinc roof, which means that Edwards can discard the tarpaulin he now spreads over his current room to protect him when it rains.

Edward's neighbour, Easton Gordon, 51, has not given up on the land he owns in Content, St Ann, however. He has plans to set up shop in the country despite leaving there at age 12.

"It no really hard here fi me but we still a suffer. So me would go back to the country. I want to go back down there and develop it because the town a get rough," said the shopkeeper, who says his father left some three acres of land in the country for him.

"If you look at the system, you see how crime is down here, every minute you hear dem a rob people so me waan lef it before dem start rob me," said Gordon.

He told our news team that he moved to Kingston about 1975, and that he has had to put up with countless feuds between rival gangsters in his community. Gordon said he plans to return to the country as soon as he saves up enough money to restore his father's farm.

"Me have some family down there weh really want me to come down and push out some help. But no money nah run, bredrin. If money did a run me gone. Me gone when me raise a 'food'," he said.

Meanwhile, 49-year-old Sandra Holmes, who shares a tenement yard in the Fletcher's Land community, said she has made several failed attempts to move back to Jackson Town, Trelawny.

She had even started the construction of a three-bedroom house on land she inherited from her grandparents.

"But all now it don't finish. It no have no top, no doors or windows. I just don't have the money to finish it and is a whole heap of money we spend on it already," declared Holmes.

She said she moved to Kingston in her teenage years and now operates a small stall at a busy intersection in Kingston. Like Edwards and Gordon, Holmes shares a kitchen and bathroom with other tenants.

"Town is quicker than country anytime. But right now it get harder because no money nah run," said the mother of a nine year-old girl.

"Me well want go back to country but is just the money me don't have. As you get a little money it blow up in bills and dem tings there. Too much violence deh a town man, me can't teck it," she said.