I'm on an ID parade

Columns

I'm on an ID parade

A random canter through the field of Jamaican politics, customs, and unsung heroes

Lance Neita

Sunday, September 20, 2020

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While we will be preoccupied with the new Cabinet and the guessing game around a new Opposition leader, the presence of the pandemic in our lives will still weigh on our hearts and minds, and this could be for at least the next 365 days. There is also the crime situation which we thought might have abated what with other more pressing matters as above, but no, the guns are still firing and the gunmen running amok.

The older folks among us may pause, if they can, to reflect on earlier days when the gun killings were far and few between, crime was discussed in hushed tones, and parents shielded the eyes of the youngsters from what they felt were the sordid stories of divorce cases that lit up the pages of the afternoon tabloid.

Don't get me wrong. This was not the age of the innocents, there was murder, there were robberies, there were acts of violence, and, shhh, yes, there were acts of rape (described as something else). But these incidents barely surfaced outside of the community unless there was national interest aroused as, say, with the Whoppi King killings and the Rhygin manhunt.

A story I wrote some years ago attempted to compare the behaviour patterns of then and now. We were blessed. The gun culture never took a foothold in our community because there was simply no space for it. Robberies were few and swiftly solved as the corporal could unerringly follow the trail of a crocus bag left unwittingly in the bushes leading to the local fowl thief's door. Values were driven home by the constant reminders to “be honest”, “be punctual”, “be kind”, posted all over the schoolroom and reinforced by teachers and social club leaders.

We were taught to fear and avoid criminals, not to admire them. The famous gunman Rhygin of the 1950s cast a cloud of terror over the island, although he notched no more than two victims. Parents warned us to come in early while the gunman was on the loose, and no matter what part of the island you lived the whispered warning that “Rhygin was here, but him disappear”, was enough to send you indoors.

Our comic book heroes were all good men. Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Kit Carson, The Cisco Kid, and The Lone Ranger were gunfighters but they wielded their arms on the side of law and order.

Our Christmas toys included six-shooters and gun belts copied off the latest screen idol's apparatus, but we acted out parts modelled off our role models and, invariably, the good men won those epic gunfights we played out in the schoolyard or on the 'common'.

We have heard of, and some have seen, boys of eight, nine and 10 being given guns to carry from one gang to another. Guns passed over fences or exchanged at street corners in full view of schoolchildren, who themselves have been found secreting weapons in school bags wrapped in their 'Study Guide'.

Time and circumstances have sadly changed. Sheer poverty, lack of opportunity, crowded and appalling living conditions, as well as lack of care and concern have made life about surviving the rat race for those struggling to escape and who see gunmanship as a star role and ticket to fortune and fame.

We must understand. We must cope. We must share the pain and concern. We must restore law and order. And those of us who were lucky enough to grow up on the other side of the fence must consider what could have been, and be thankful.

Politics is taking over our addresses and our lives. I had no idea that I lived somewhere other than my known place of abode until a friend called from Kingston recently and asked: “How is your constituency?” Up to then I was very comfortable with my address, but apparently people are now beginning to be identified not by road, district, or town, but by their constituency.

After telling my friend that I had not formed one yet (constituency, I mean), the realisation hit me that we have become so politicised that it's commonplace to accept that life in Jamaica begins with your political alienation, and that geographical boundaries are being consumed by constituency boundaries.

I take pride in the district that mothered me, the town in which I was raised, the parish in which I was born. I am quite aware of the constituencies in which I have lived, but this level of awareness ebbs and flows according to election time when I have to recheck the post office notice board to confirm the location of my polling booth.

Demarcation

My constituency demarcation is secondary to where I live. I object to being declared anyone's constituent. We are born as citizens of Jamaica, and to help the process along we learn early in school that our town has a name, the town is in a parish, and in case you have forgotten, a parish is further located in a county, either Cornwall, Middlesex or Surrey. That kind of ID parade makes it easy to develop a sense of personal identity and a sense of pride in whatever may be the achievements and accomplishments of your birthplace.

I have a great deal of respect and admiration for my current Member of Parliament (MP) indeed have been fortunate to enjoy associations with many others who represent different constituencies and opposite parties. As my MP, I expect him or her to display strong qualities of leadership, humility, dedication, selflessness, and real ability. As for me, I just want to be regarded as a resident of a community with my name and persona intact, certainly not simply a voter or a constituent.

We have a bad habit of thinking in terms of constituency boundaries whenever projects or benefits are to be deployed. In such instances, people tend to get lost against the backdrop of a political master plan that is drawn up to place development opportunities strategically in constituencies for vote-catching purposes rather than for the benefit of the greater Jamaica.

The day when your letters start arriving with name, town, PO Box, followed by your constituency, you will know we have had it and we are all firmly politicised.

Politicisation

And while on the subject of constituencies, there is another aspect to the new politicisation which can grow to unmanageable proportions if not kept in check, and that has to do with the ubiquitous caretaker.

The caretaker is someone who has emerged, or has been named by the losing party, as the person most likely to run for that side in a future election. He or she, therefore, might have a need to be seen and heard, but has absolutely no constitutional right to be recognised on any official platform or in any official capacity.

Nevertheless, caretakers tend to turn up at these events, some are invited to speak at official functions, some have even been given authority to oversee official projects, and are favoured if their party is in power. They tend to make a nuisance of themselves and assume roles that have confused and misled their loyal constituents into believing they are more influential than they can possibly be.

Those of us who enjoy politics must be careful to watch out for these flaws that can subvert our democratic systems and make us lose our sanity and our sense of humour.

4H celebrates

The Jamaica 4H Clubs is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. Heartiest congratulations to an organisation that has gone through rough times with scarce funding, but has nevertheless managed to survive rough years and maintain its reputational integrity.

As with other organisations that depend on the goodwill and selfless efforts of team partners, volunteerism is the strong foundation on which the movement is built. This coupled with undoubted excellent leadership from its founders and directors over the years.

Listing names in this column would be unfair to those inadvertently left out. Pardon me, however, if I recall Noel Walters who was not only a family friend but was the organiser who introduced 4H to our elementary school. Of more recent spells would be Lenworth Fulton, another friend of mine, now the head of the Jamaica Agricultural Society.

Our school 4H club was quite active. We were trained in budding, farming, fertilising, mulching. We were almost next door to the Denbigh showgrounds and participated in the early National 4H shows held on those grounds.

Needless to say, I failed budding. But I am proud to boast that I won a prize for Best Leghorn and Rhode Island chickens on exhibition at one of those shows. I won the princely sum of eight shillings which my mother promptly cornered and put aside for school expenses. I couldn't object, the chickens were really the product of my father's poultry farm.

My membership lasted for only one year as I was swept up in the new Common Entrance awards opportunities and went off to secondary school. No sign of 4H in secondary schools of those days (at least not at mine) and I was left to surmise that 4H was a commoner exercise.

Of course, the opposite is true. 4H has been a character builder of class, and has a proud record of contribution to nation-building second to none. For 80 years the Jamaica 4H Clubs has been teaching our young people how “to make the best better” by encouraging them to realise their fullest potential.

With over 110,000 active club members islandwide, some 564 school gardens, and in excess of 5,000 volunteers, 4H boasts that it has been able to positively impact the lives of our youth through a number of training programmes. The training programmes are offered through early childhood, primary, all-age, junior high, secondary and technical high schools, as well as churches, communities, and youth clubs.

One of their flagship programmes is the successful Rural Youth Entrepreneurship Programme, empowering rural youth by offering business and technical training in small business management, agriculture, and agro-industry. Another is the Backyard Garden Challenge, a spin-off from the National School Garden Programme.

Congratulations and thanks to these heroes. When we attend their graduation exercises and see these young men and women entering the working world as leaders in their own right, purposeful, inspired, creative, and proud of themselves, we are reminded that if given a chance, Jamaicans can be world beaters leaving the gunmen, and the wanton murderers, behind.


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