Last Sunday, I saw a senior citizen walking on Monroe Road in Liguanea. She looked so weary. She was carrying a bag and it seemed as if it was the weight of the world. I just had to offer her a ride. As we drove off, I asked her how long she’d been walking. She had no idea.
She’d gone downtown to pick up a few things at the market and didn’t have enough money for bus fare. So she’d walked all the way, one step at a time. And she’d stopped frequently to catch up herself. I learned that her name was Joyce. And she told me she’d had a hard life. At one time she had been homeless. But she was now living with her daughter.
I couldn’t help asking Joyce how old she was. As it turns out, she wasn’t all that senior. Chronological age and biological age are sometimes quite different. I was alarmed to find out that Joyce is younger than me. Hard life old yu up fi true! As we parted, I gave her some money. But how long could that last? I knew my small gift was nothing but a Band-Aid for a deep wound.
“WHY THIS WASTE?”
There are so many more people like Joyce in Jamaica today, barely surviving on next to nothing. Those of us who have houses and cars and jobs don’t always stop to see the suffering that is all around us. Things are very, very tough these days for a whole heap of people.
Cynics will tell you that’s just how life is. So wi come an find it. An wi a go dead an left it same way. Can’t do nutten bout it. No one somebody can’t solve the problem of poverty in our society. So just hold yu corner and do the little you can. And live yu life without guilt.
Even fundamentalist Christians have a way of getting ‘philosophical’ about poverty. They quote Jesus: “The poor you will always have with you.” But that’s just half of the sentence. Jesus wasn’t proposing that we do nothing about poverty. He was actually trying to teach his disciples a difficult lesson about getting their priorities straight.
They were annoyed because a woman had anointed Jesus’ head with expensive perfume. So they said to him, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” Jesus answered them with a question: “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.”
WORSE THAN SLAVERY?
It grieves me to admit it. But I speculate that many Jamaicans today are worse off than our enterprising ancestors in the days of slavery. Believe it or not, enslaved Jamaicans had opportunities for making their own money. There was a long-established practice of cultivating provision grounds in their ‘free’ time. And they reaped the benefits of their own labour, selling excess produce. This became the foundation of a very profitable market system.
The historian Robin Blackburn reveals in his book, The Making of New World Slavery, that: “The growing proportion of internal commerce and currency in the slaves’ hands was another development encouraged by the provision-ground system which neither planters nor officials could halt.” Blackburn records the estimate that “a third of Jamaica’s currency was in slave hands by the 1770s”.
Almost 250 years later, how much of Jamaica’s currency is now in the hands of the descendants of enslaved Africans? Certainly not one-third! What really happened after Emancipation? And why are we spending so much of the little money we do have on imported food? Instead, we should be supporting the producers of high-quality local provisions.
PIE IN THE SKY
Chik-V has pauperised us even more than usual this year. So many of us mash up! With productivity down and the cost of everything skyrocketing, it’s going be a very ‘salt’ Christmas for most Jamaicans. I suppose a lot of corporate parties are still being planned. I’m suggesting that all the big companies cut the revelry this year and use the substantial savings for a good cause.
Instead of catering for the employed, who really don’t need a Christmas party, corporate Jamaica could feed a lot of people who don’t have the bare necessities. All the upscale caterers and suppliers of expensive food and drink will not be so happy during this season of austerity. But they can still be employed to provide much more economical food baskets that could be distributed through primary schools and churches.
And if, as individuals, we put on one less party, we could also contribute to the cause. Yes, I know it sounds like pie in the sky. But one step at a time, we all can keep moving in the right direction, if we choose. The only images I want to see on the ‘Who’s Who’ pages this holiday season are scenes of collective social responsibility.