As the French say, “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose” (the more things change, the more they remain the same).
But in Jamaica, things don’t change at all. Take the current disaster, for example. According to the latest reports, thirteen people have been killed and at least eight more are still missing after terrible floods caused by heavy rain associated with Tropical Storm Nicole. Nothing more than a depression and rain. Now, rivers are brown, seething torrents. Hillsides are torn away like a piece of crust from bread. Bridges are broken off as if a hand had reached down and just snapped them in two. And the rain is not over yet.
I am starting to read many blogs from Jamaica (the Petcharys are still overseas but will be back in two or three days) – and it all sounds so familiar. Yes, deforestation is taking place, causing steep hillsides to slip and slide and valuable topsoil to wash away into the heavily silted rivers and eventually the sea. Yes, we know that.
Yes, our building codes are not properly enforced, so that people are still building their homes on the edge of gullies with their piles of garbage and dead dogs and trickles of filthy water and mentally unsound people. Yes, we know that.
Yes, we know that in rural areas, infrastructure is poor and people do not practice sustainable agriculture. They don’t even know what that is. Yes, we know that.
Yes, we know that squatting is a malignant and spreading problem that has not been addressed by any political leaders and never will be. It is used, like ignorance and lack of education, as a useful political tool from time to time. So people will continue to live in hovels, in cities and in the country, and grab what they can, and weep and wring their hands when they are occasionally evicted.
Yes, we know that our leaders only think as far ahead as the next election date and the next nice trip abroad and the next public meeting which is lovingly filmed by our television crews, so we can all look at the doltish crowd with empty eyes in colored t shirts that turns up, pathetically, to sit at school desks and watch them make raucous/pompous “speeches” in a bleak little school classroom. Yes, we know that, they do it at regular intervals.
So what has changed? What will change? Yes, we know the answer to that too – nothing at all.
Another thing that certainly won’t change… We will continue to talk about these problems endlessly – on radio and TV talk shows, on our verandahs that have not yet been washed away, at cocktail parties. Perhaps that is what living in a developing country is all about… The endless, debilitating cycle of disaster and misfortune and failure and recrimination and regret and the overwhelming, thick cloud of corruption and cynicism and ignorance… Just goes on and on. That is why “developing countries” are always just “developing” – always in the process, on an endless merry-go-round. The term “Third World” is now politically incorrect, as it suggests perhaps that countries like Jamaica are stuck in a particular status that they will never emerge from.
But, isn’t that true? Jamaica is actually slipping behind in such UN Millennium Development Goals as vaccination for tuberculosis, for example. We were better off a few years ago. Why?
Because this merry-go-round, instead of slowing down, is spinning ever faster. Soon, some of us will lose our balance and fall off. The Petchary sometimes wants to just jump off, and suffer a grazed knee and a scraped elbow in the process. At least she will have left the endless spin behind.
- Tropical Storm Nicole kills nine in Jamaica (reuters.com)