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Text Box: ‘Have We Lost Our Way?’

Valerie Dixon, a Jamaica based educator,   is ‘provocative’, and suggested that  the people of Jamaica, a popular island in the Caribbean, might have lost their way. The piece is peppered with nostalgia, reference to a ‘Golden Age’. Yet there is a deadly serious underlining tone, on the issue of ‘Third World’ debt repayments, high interest rates, and retarded development, of essential public services. This is a template  complaint echoed across our Planet, among the poor and so called  developing countries, from Africa, South, Central and Latin America, the Far, Middle and Near East. The loudest of these come from nations, former colonies of European Powers. It would seem that the price of ‘independence’ from these powers is a loaded and heavy economic millstone, and associated social consequences, around the necks of multiple generations. And there seems to be no end in sight. What is left is a ready made and active social machinery which manufactures, as it were,  poor and “anti-social citizens’’ daily . “Self-Help News” would welcome comments in support and against Valeries’ take on the current situation in Jamaica. Send them to feedback@ubol.com.  
Text Box: By Valerie Dixon

For many Jamaicans over the age of 45, their perception is that Jamaica's Golden Age is over. It seems that we have lost our way and many rightly or wrongly place the blame for our demise entirely at the feet of our leaders. In a discussion I had with Dr. Michael Witter, head of the Department of Economics at the University of the West Indies, he suggested that many persons who are over the age of 45 may remember the years 1955-1965 as 'golden' because Jamaica's gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate was at its highest in the 20th century. 

He said he also imagines that the period 1965-1975 could also be described as 'golden' as it marked the high point in the history of Jamaican popular music. 

Yet another perspective, according to Dr. Witter, is that many persons wish for the 'good old days of colonialism', either because they were beneficiaries of the status quo, or their memories are not too accurate, in that they have forgotten that there were no traffic jams because few people had cars, nor were the Jamaica Public Service and the Cable and Wireless offices jammed to pay bills because few people had electricity and telephones. 

It seems fair to say that these golden years are definitely now over when one compares the turbulence of the present time to as far back as most of us can recall. 

To use the words of our current Prime Minister, "I nuh matter who want to vex", but I feel that 1976 was the watershed year that signalled the beginning of the end of our golden age. 
It was during the mid-1970s that space was made for the Jamaican middle-class functionaries to take over the running of the country because the colonial administrators were no longer at the controls. 

I believe, too, that our dalliance with communism and the watered-down version called democratic socialism sounded the death knell of our once ordered society. 

Effect on middle class 

But while Dr. Witter agrees that 1976 was a watershed year in that a turning point in a state of affairs, in that people voted over-whelmingly for a change in the direction of the politics and the socio-economic development of the society - he interprets its effects somewhat differently. 

"It was the start of the campaign by the international financial institutions and the leading western powers to turn back the tide of change in Jamaica," he said. 

So how did we get to where we are? Many would agree that the middle class is the backbone of most societies. They are the standard-bearers, the teachers of values and attitudes and they are the entrepreneurs for the most part, who create employment. They are the bridge between the poor who are powerless and the rich who are powerful. 

When the middle class vanishes, a void or a gap is created. Something must fill this space. Whether it was by choice or as a result of this casual encounter with communism/democratic socialism, many from our middle class boarded the five flights a day to Miami. 

It seems that in Jamaica, this gap has now been filled by those who are originally from the bowels of the working class, and a fair number now find themselves with plenty money and very little of the social graces. Many could be described kindly as being 'undereducated'. Many have now become the rich and powerful and can afford to 'box' our elected officials out of the way and take over and 'run things'. 

At the other extreme, we have the 'old-money' people who have dual citizenship. They have no interest in Jamaica outside of using our labour and making certain that they collect their profits and the high interest rates that they receive on their money that they lent to the Government. 

So as the economy is 'bled' to pay these interest rates to creditors at home and abroad, these beneficiaries can rightly claim that from their perspective, this is now a golden age. 

Many of us, who don't fall into either of these classes (new-money or old-money classes) adore, admire and aspire to become like them, for the money, nothing else. 

Our standards must, therefore, fall, because many of the people who were the functionaries and standard-bearers and could have taught us how to run an ordered society, teach us reasons why we need to have good manners and to be kind and responsible, abandoned Jamaica at a time when many of those who now 'run things' were in their infant or formative years or were inexperienced political and bureaucratic leaders. 

Many of these leaders are still around 30 years later when Jamaica is now described as 'Bad Man's Paradise'. They have either not gained any experience, or are fully experienced in doing things badly. 

I came face to face with Jamaica's future recently when I was invited to be the guest speaker at a high school's graduation ceremony. The beginning of the ceremony was quite nice and orderly, but as the programme wore on, the bad-man culture took over. 

In the middle of my speech, the 'big-up' sound was played. It sounded like a barrage of gunshots set to music and the audience was delighted. Was this appropriate? In 'Bad Man's Paradise' (read Jamaica), this is considered to be a very high compliment. Dancehall culture has now permeated almost everything and is considered appropriate for dances, weddings, funerals and now graduation ceremonies. 

Drifting without direction 

As I sat and looked at these school leavers, I became very sad. But I cannot blame them too much. Parents and teachers have lost control and our young people are drifting without direction. Is Jamaica going to be a nice place to grow old in? 
Parents have lost their way, but some of our teachers have also lost their way. Nobody seems to have a compass, so we don't know where our true direction lies when it comes to values and attitudes. 

There was a time in our Golden Age 1955-1975 (my perspective), when the society looked to teachers, pastors, deacons, ambassadors, policemen and women for moral and spiritual leadership and guidance. Today, when I see some of the persons who fill these positions, it makes me wonder about the future of this country. 

But what else can we expect when our leaders at the very top, who should set the stage on which the society can act out and fulfil its ambitions, swim in a sea of rumours when it comes to their private lives. Our private lives cannot be divorced from our public lives because the same way how 'yuh dance a yard is the same way yuh dance a street.' 

Prevailing conditions 

Columnist Kevin O'Brien-Chang in one of his articles asked for all fathers' names to be placed on their children's birth certificates. He must be joking. In 'Bad Man's Paradise', this could not happen because a lot of so-called big men would be disgraced and their wives and children embarrassed, because rumour has it that many of them have a whole heap of children by as many baby mothers. 
If what we want are leaders who are cowboys and thieves, then we must come forward and admit it. If what we want is a society run by ‘dons’, ‘gangstas’ and ‘thugs’, then we must come forward and admit it. 

By these admissions, a clear message will be sent to the good people left in 'Bad Man's Paradise' that there is no space for them and they need to consider their options - shut their damn mouths; hold their corners or migrate. 

But maybe I am the misguided one and we have not lost our way. 

I will try to ignore the fact that incest, rape and child abuse are prevalent in our society and that many perpetrators escape from the long arm of the law. I will also try to ignore the many cries for social justice and human rights. 

I will try to close my eyes and ears to the fact that 'big men' choose teenage schoolgirls, with their mothers' approval, to be their concubines and baby mothers. 

I will try to ignore the many taxi men who give schoolgirls free rides, lunch money and a box of that famous chicken in exchange for sexual favours - (a ride for a ride, as simple as that) - because the girls claim that their parents are not working and they need to be in school. 

But, if the majority of Jamaicans are happy with the conditions that now prevail, then why should I be a spoilsport and complain that we have lost our way? 

Valerie Dixon  may be contacted at: valeriecdixon@ubol.com
Your comments may be posted to: feedback@ubol.com 

About Jamaica
Jamaica is the largest and most westerly English speaking island in the Caribbean, 146 miles long and 51 miles wide.   Situated in the Caribbean Sea - 600 miles south of Florida, 100 miles southwest of Haiti and 90 miles south of Cuba.  With low coastal plains and its best beaches on the north and west coasts, Jamaica is mountainous in the interior with a peak in the Blue Mountains of approximately 7,402 feet. Kingston is Jamaican’s capital city. Jamaica gained full independence from Britain, within the British Commonwealth in 1962.
Jamaica is a country of young people. Roughly 40 percent of the population was under fifteen years of age in the late 1980s. The fastest-growing age groups were those ten to thirty-four years of age and those seventy and over. Slower growth for middle-aged groups was generally explained by their greater tendency to emigrate. The 1982 census revealed that the group up to nine years old was the only one not becoming larger; this suggested both that the country's population was aging and that family planning was working. The 1982 census also revealed that 51 percent of the population was female.
The country's national motto, “Out of many, one people”,  points to the various ethnic groups present on the island. Although a predominantly black nation of West African descent, Jamaica had significant minorities of East Indians, Chinese, Europeans, Syrians, Lebanese, and numerous mixtures thereof in the late 1980s. Approximately 95 percent of all Jamaicans were of partial or total African descent, include	ing 76 percent of complete African descent, 15 percent of Afro-European descent, and 4 percent of either Afro-East Indian or Afro-Chinese descent. Nearly 2 percent of the population was East Indian, close to 1 percent Chinese, and the remainder was made up of Europeans, peoples of the Middle East, and others. Although racial differences were not as important as class differences, the lightness of one's skin was still an issue, especially since minorities were generally members of ‘the upper classes’.
July 2006 estimate of Jamaica’s  population is 2,758,124. Birth rate 20.82 births/1,000 population (2006 est.) and death rate 6.52 deaths/1,000 population (2006 est.).  Life expectancy rate: total population: 73.24 years; for male 71.54 years and female 75.03 years (2006 est.). Ethnic mix: Black of African heritage 90.9%, East Indian 1.3%, white 0.2%, Chinese 0.2%, mixed 7.3%, other 0.1%.  
Jamaican National Anthem
Eternal Father, Bless our Land. 
Guide us with thy mighty hand. 
Keep us free from evil powers, 
Be our light through countless hours. 
To our leaders, great defender, 
Grant true wisdom from above. 
Justice, truth be ours forever, 
Jamaica, land we love. 
Jamaica, Jamaica, Jamaica, land we love. 
Teach us true respect for all. 
Stir response to duty's call. 
Strengthen us the weak to cherish, 
Give us vision lest we perish. 
Knowledge send us Heavenly Father, 
Grant true wisdom from above. 
Justice, truth be ours forever 
Jamaica, land we love, 
Jamaica, Jamaica, Jamaica, Land we love.
For more on Jamaica, visit the following links:

Text Box: We've lost our way

St Ann’s Bay, the Capital of St. Ann, and the birth place of the Rt. Excellent Marcus Mosiah Garvey (1887-1940), Jamaica’s First National Hero,  Pan-Africanist, World Activist and Philosopher.

Flag of Jamaica

Text Box: Other articles by Valerie Dixon can be read here

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