Glenda Simms, Contributor
Late afternoon, on January 24, 2013, I was thoroughly enjoying the salubrious and healing climate of the Santa Cruz Mountains. I was sitting alone, cross-legged, under the 'arched brows' of the poinciana tree which serves as a natural roof over a patch of grass where I find peace as I communicate with my ancestral spirits. This piece of heaven on earth is to be found at my 'Shamba', which is located in Malvern, St Elizabeth.
The concept and meaning of a Shamba were explained to me by a Kenyan friend who invited me to join her family for supper while I was attending the United Nations World Conference for women which was convened in Nairobi in 1985.
When I remarked on the freshness and beauty of the multicoloured vegetables that were part of the supper menu, my friend told me that they came in from the Shamba. She further explained that every Kenyan woman, irrespective of her level of education, takes pride in her connection with her ancestral village, and it is common practice to maintain a garden patch (the Shamba) which supplies the vegetables, tubers, and fruits which are served at the family dining tables in all sectors of Nairobi.
Acquiring a shamba
It was at that moment that I made the determination to acquire my Shamba in the Malvern region which is home to a long line of my ancestors.
It was at this Shamba that I was confirming to myself that there is no better place to clear one's head than these Malvern hills, when my peace was broken by a young man who shouted to me from my gateway:
"Auntie, Malvan a mek di news. Listen to yu radio."
The shocking story that this young man wanted me to hear was about the death of a young special constable assigned to the Black River Police Division, and of a young man who is genetically connected to one of the families in the Malvern region.
Both died in what is described as a shoot-out between the security forces and a group of alleged male criminals.
It was with a certain level of sadness that I began to wonder about the nature of the developmental journey that has recently forced many rural communities to grapple with the reality of serious criminal behaviours linked to the offspring of families who considered themselves decent, honest and respectable Christians.
I ventured out from my Shamba, which is in proximity to the Bethlehem Moravian College which is distinguished by the large number of educators who have graduated from its classrooms. I moved on slowly and passed the gates of Hampton School, an institution which has produced so many exemplary women who now occupy important positions in the global village.
It was immediately after passing Hampton's gates that I encountered the long line of vehicles parked on one side of the narrow roadway and hundreds of the local citizenry (men, women and children) who had gathered with open mouths and dropped jaws as they dealt with the shock of the events that were unfolding in their beloved community.
Of course, a number of police officers were present, and they made every effort to keep the roadway clear for persons who were going about their personal business.
What's happening to my shamba?
After inching my path through the communal shell-shocked crowd, I took a deep breath and carefully avoided the numerous potholes which characterise the Malvern road which passed the gates of the prestigious Munro College, an institution that is still important to the high educational achievement of the young men who are lucky enough to gain entrance to its halls of learning.
As I meandered down the hills in the direction of the ocean, I reminded myself that Malvern has now been transformed by an influx of returning residents and the local bourgeoisie who have constructed some of the most luxurious and beautiful homes in this region of St Elizabeth.
As I reminded myself to remember the caring disposition, the hard-working habits of the St Elizabeth farm folk and the generosity of spirit that honed the consciousness of persons of my generation, I was forced to scream out loud, "How and when did we get to this?"
For me, this was a painful moment, because I knew members of the young constable's family and I also knew members of the alleged gunman's family. I felt the pain and the loss of two young men, and I pondered about the fact that in St Elizabeth, we had become extremely materialistic, sometimes uncaring, and in spite of the many churches and their holy-rolling congregation, we oftentimes behave in very uncharitable ways.
In fact, in one night, the citizens of Malvern were forced to weep and wail and take on communal guilt for a tragedy that could have been prevented if mothers, grandmothers and girlfriends would let go of the secrets that cause them to protect their sons, husbands and grandsons who are known to be involved in criminal activities.
More bad news for my shamba
Within a short time frame of this incident, another horrible act of violence occurred in the district of Ivor Cottage in the Malvern region.
According to news reports, the Malvern police had taken into custody a man who allegedly "abducted and attempted to sexually assault a three-year-old girl" (a baby in any cultural context.)
While I felt renewed anger at the continuing levels of violence against women and girls, and the eroding value systems that cause young parents to neglect their children in search of their own joy and/or happiness, I was comforted by the fact that the citizens of Ivor Cottage captured the alleged criminal, tied him up and led him by a rope (like the animal he portrayed) to the Malvern Police Station.
These citizens were outraged, but they didn't take justice into their own hands. They did not beat or chop the man to death. They knew vigilante justice was not justice. They also knew that within our African roots, it takes a village to raise a child.
This rational frame of mind displayed by the humble folks of Ivor Cottage helped me regain my faith in Malvern. We still have the ability to be calm, reasonable, and decent, even in the face of great distress.
Malvern is still a good place to come from and to return to.
Welcome to my Shamba!
Glenda P. Simms, PhD, is a consultant and gender expert. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.