Kevin O'Brien Chang, Gleaner Writer
Over 95 per cent of people live in the land of their birth, and where you are born is a matter of chance. But who has not wondered what life is like in other countries, and asked themselves if they would be happier or sadder elsewhere?
The Roman poet Horace dismissed such notions - 'He changes skies but not his soul, who flees across the sea'. But the universal library of the internet allows us to go beyond philosophical generalisations these days. Though Horace is probably right, and such speculations are likely a waste of time, the wealth of information available on the World Wide Web makes 'Suppose I had been born elsewhere' mind games more intriguing than ever.
So here is a little research, comparing Jamaica with five other smallish-population islands - Cuba, Singapore, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and New Zealand. Why these? Well, it makes sense to compare like with like, that is puny islands with puny islands and not large world powers. Furthermore, one is our closest neighbour, one of mostly Indian stock, one of mostly Chinese stock, one of mostly Caucasian stock, and one in Africa. This geographically and racially scattered collection should give a fair idea of how life in Jamaica compares with life around the globe.
Here are the basic numbers - population and GDP per capita, by purchasing power parity.
(Source: BBC, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)_per_capita)
Perhaps the next best stop is the country profiles introduction on the most globally comprehensive news website, the good old BBC. They are obviously simplistic but presumably unbiased snapshots.
Jamaica - Known for its strong sense of self-identity expressed through its music, food and rich cultural mix, Jamaica's influence extends far beyond its shores. With luminaries such as the black nationalist Marcus Garvey and musician Bob Marley, Jamaicans are proud of their cultural and religious heritage. Jamaicans have migrated, in significant numbers, to the United States, Canada and Britain and their music stars are known around the globe.
Cuba - Has survived more than 40 years of US sanctions intended to topple the government of Fidel Castro. It also defied predictions that it would not survive the collapse of its one-time supporter, the Soviet Union. Since the fall of the US-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959, Cuba has been a one-party state led by Mr Castro and - since February 2008 - by his anointed successor, younger brother Raul. Fidel exercised control over virtually all aspects of Cuban life, through the Communist Party and its affiliated mass organisations, the government bureaucracy and the state-security apparatus.
Singapore - A hi-tech, wealthy city-state in south-east Asia, also known for the conservatism of its leaders and its strict social controls. The country comprises the main island - linked by a causeway and a bridge to the southern tip of Malaysia - and around 50 smaller islands. Once a colonial outpost of Britain, Singapore has become one of the world's most prosperous places - with glittering skyscrapers and a thriving port.
Madagascar - The world's fourth biggest island after Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo. Because of its isolation, most of its mammals, half its birds, and most of its plants exist nowhere else on earth.
The island is heavily exposed to tropical cyclones, which bring torrential rains and destructive floods, such as the ones in 2000 and 2004, which left thousands homeless.
Sri Lanka - The tropical island of Sri Lanka has beguiled travellers for centuries with its palm-fringed beaches, diverse landscapes and historical monuments. But the island has been scarred by a long and bitter civil war arising out of ethnic tensions between the majority Sinhalese and the Tamil minority in the northeast.
Two dominant groups
New Zealand - A wealthy Pacific nation, is dominated by two cultural groups - New Zealanders of European descent, and the minority Maori, whose Polynesian ancestors arrived on the islands around 1,000 years ago. Agriculture is the economic mainstay, but manufacturing and tourism are important and there is a world-class film industry. New Zealand has diversified its export markets and has developed strong trade links with Australia, the US, and Japan. In April 2008 it became the first Western country to sign a free trade deal with China.
What does this tell us? Well Singapore and New Zealand are rich and developed and boring, Cuba and Sri Lanka have big political problems, Madagscar is nature and danger, and Jamaica has the proudest and most entertaining people!
Another set of statistics also makes interesting reading.
(Sources: 2009 rate from Constabulary Communication Network, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by suicide_rate)
What can we surmise from Jamaica's extremely low suicide rate? Well no one knows for sure why people kill themselves. But it stands to reason that suicide rates and general standards of happiness in a country are somehow correlated. After all, no one takes their life because of a surfeit of bliss.
All in all, it seems that when you look at all the numbers, we can count ourselves mostly blessed to live on 'The Rock'. But can you imagine how much happier we could be if we did not have perhaps the world's highest murder rate?
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