“Partnership” is a word very much en vogue. Perhaps because it’s used in a vague kind of way and covers a lot of things…agreements (some more concrete than others), business arrangements (some more profitable than others) and, well, relationships of various kinds between human beings (some more successful than others). Not necessary equal. Governments just love partnerships, non-governmental organizations create them but don’t necessarily benefit. Then there are the political partners, global allies, trade partners.
Marriage is, ideally, a partnership. One could say it’s the kind of partnership that involves give, take, compromise, capitulation, furious bargaining, sharing, conflict and so on. It’s very, well… fluid.
I pondered this expression as I was listening to a BBC News report about a former Latin American leader who lived in semi-exile, with his “long-term mistress.” What an odd expression, and how old-fashioned. What was the nature of this relationship, that branded the woman as a “mistress,” and one who had stuck around for a bit? Was this expression used because this was an obscure (to the BBC) Latin man from the Third World who had been living with an even more obscure woman for years? Did the obscure Latin man have a wife?
I wonder about these expressions and what they suggest. If this former President was an ex-British or European leader, his other half would be his…ah yes…“partner,” and would certainly be named. A partner is a much more important person than a mere Third World mistress. It seems to me some kind of prejudice is at work here.
Yes, the word “partner” is very popular in the UK. Of course, the person can be the same sex or opposite sex. But it has a self-important ring to it somehow. Celebrities, therefore, always have partners… not lovers or “significant others” (what a ridiculous expression that was – only the utterly pretentious would use it now). Maybe the word lover is not used because it suggests that the relationship is all about romping around in bed (well, maybe that is the case), whereas being a partner is a much more serious affair. Personally, the Petchary likes lover… It sounds more fun, and also rather glamorous, somehow. A partner sounds a touch dull… as if you are in business together.
When the Petchary was growing up, marriage was still the done thing. It’s considered quaintly old-fashioned in England these days, it seems. Most of the young/younger people we know over there seem to be carefully avoiding it – in fact in many cases avoiding any kind of relationship that lasts longer than the usual gestation period of human beings. Are they too busy pursuing success, talking on their iPhones and seeking to impress someone, including themselves? One wonders.
And when the Petchary was growing up, if such “partnerships” did spring up, there were all kinds of euphemisms for such an unsavory arrangement. My grandmother used to call it “living in sin” and was deeply disapproving, as only my grandmother could be (she was terrifying in disapproving mode). A rather more flippant expression was “shacking up together” – offering an image of the naughty couple hammering nails into boards and zinc. Then of course you could be “cohabiting” – which always sounds to the Petchary like a flock of herons roosting in a tree.
And in dear old Jamaica, the majority of unions are, in fact, people shacking up together. Here it is called a “common law union” – and of course there are many such unions that last longer than a lot of marriages. In many cases the couple doesn’t go to that trouble; they have some kind of relationship that produces a baby, whether wanted or unwanted, and that subsequently becomes something increasingly vague and amorphous. No “life partners” here. One half of the partnership is a woman with a baby on her arm, now risen to the status of “baby mother.” The other half is a man, proud of his conquest but a shadowy figure, who may or may not provide financial or emotional support. Then the cute little baby grows up, and there are school fees to pay… Reality sucks, as the young people would say.
But when we do get married in Jamaica, it is a major performance. Yards of satin in shades of peach and baby pink; a skyscraper wedding cake with a number of floors that have to be carefully dismantled; gallons of rum and inexpensive champagne; cascades of orchids and roses that wilt as you look at them; and the happy couple draped on a lawn in Hope Gardens or Emancipation Park, gazing into each other’s eyes. Phew! Almost as exhausting as a Jamaican funeral. But definitely more fun.
There is one Jamaican “partner” that works really well, though. Although in this distrustful age, I don’t hear about it so much these days. It’s a kind of rotating savings account – a pool of money managed by a person of impeccable honesty, with regular payouts. No interest paid or charged, but your money is safe, and you look forward to the lump sum payout. It works. It has worked. Like most banking, it is based on trust and true partnership.
So the moral of this story is… Choose your partner well, and carefully. And keep up your end of the bargain, if you can.
“I was always an independent, even when I had partners.” (Samuel Goldwyn)
- Book Of A Lifetime: The Lover, By Marguerite Duras (independent.co.uk)
- Mother Earth has rights too (petchary.wordpress.com)
- mother earth has rights too … on Bolivia’s ‘Mother Earth policy’ (ecomantra.wordpress.com)
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)