Last Sunday, I enjoyed a nice lickle cotch in a fool’s paradise. For the first time in all the years I’ve been writing a monthly column in the Jamaican language, not a single soul complained on The Gleaner’s website that I was wasting space on foolishness. All the comments focused on the issue I’d raised, ‘KSAMC an di Developer Dem a Mash Up Kingston’.
I foolishly thought I’d won an Olympic victory in the fight to get readers to accept that we are a bilingual country and we need to take both languages seriously. But the book of Proverbs, chapter 16, verse 18, King James Version, warns that, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” Before the end of the week, I fell ‘boof’. On Thursday, an angry reader pitched me off the delusion on which I’d been cotching.
Incidentally, ‘cotch’ is a Jamaican adaptation of an outdated English word ‘scotch.’ The Dictionary of Jamaican English quotes the meaning of the noun that’s given in The Oxford English Dictionary: “a block placed under a wheel … to prevent moving or slipping.” The verb has the same meaning of giving temporary support. The Dictionary of Jamaican English was published in 1967 and it is still not widely known in Jamaica. This is largely because of the general contempt for local varieties of English, and even more, for the Jamaican language.
‘NO AMBITION FOR THE ISLAND’
Audley McLean, who forcefully dislodged my scotch, posted a long rant. So mi get it, so mi give it. When readers are upset they don’t usually bother to pay attention to spelling, grammar or punctuation. But if you’re setting yourself up as a defender of English, it makes sense to check what you’ve written. Mr McLean did respond to the issue of high-rise buildings, but he couldn’t resist throwing a few mocking words in Jamaican about my advocacy of our language.
“Miss Cooper is one of those backward Jamaicans who think that such modern development is not for Jamaica, we should never endeavor to be like foreign Countries, wi should jus hold wi likkle corna, good thing all like she don’t have a say in the way we move forward, for we would stop speaking English [only potois] reject Jamaicans who are not of Afro descent, stop build up the City, don’t know her position on the Highways, but i wouldn’t ask, wonder if she ever see the great Cities being built in Africa, more over, Japan i the Earthquake Capital of the World, yet it doesn’t stop the from building high-rise, too many Jamaicans have no ambition for the Island.”
Mr McLean doesn’t seem to know that I’ve been a teacher of English language and literature for over 50 years. So, starting this week, that’s how I’m going to describe myself. Back to basics, plain and simple! But I still might not be able to convince some readers that I don’t want Jamaicans to “stop speaking English (only potois).” If I’m for the Jamaican language, I must be against English. Facts don’t always set the record straight.
‘NOBODY ELSE MUST REACH’
Another reader sent an angry email: “It seems the emerging middle class should not live or own property in Kingston 6. This is not progressive for someone who advocate for the poor in society. It is like, I have reached and nobody else must reach. It reminds me of the conflict between the domestic and field enslaved people during the 18th century. Since, you are so against apartment developments. I have a few questions for you: Where should young professionals live? Is KSA only for the established middle class? Why do you fight the emerging middle class?”
I sent a link to a 2017 article in Forbes magazine by Joel Kotkin, a professor of Urban Studies at Chapman University. The headline is startling, ‘US Cities Have A Glut Of High-Rises And Still Lack Affordable Housing’. Kotkin reports that, “Almost without exception, then, the most expensive areas are precisely those that have the most high-rise buildings: New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Miami. More to the point, these buildings don’t tend to be occupied by middle-class, much less working-class, families. And in many cases, these units are not people’s actual homes; in New York, as many as 60 per cent of new luxury units are not primary residences, leaving many unoccupied at any given time.”
The situation here may not be exactly the same. But there are one-bedroom units in high-rise, high-end apartment buildings in Kingston for sale at a starting price of 19.5 million dollars. This is completely out of the reach of many who aspire to be upwardly mobile. Literally! Less expensive alternatives to high-rise buildings should be on the agenda.
Affordable middle-class housing developments can be built outside of Kingston. For example, St Thomas can become a viable alternative to St Catherine when the long-overdue highway is finally built. This may not be a desirable location for those who want to live in Kingston 6. But proverbial wisdom advises, “Tek weh yu get til yu get weh yu want.” And build equity!
Costly high-rise apartments in Kingston 6 are not likely to solve the housing crisis in the city. Many will remain empty for a long time, waiting on wealthy investors. And those who want to buy into these luxury buildings but can’t pay the price will, regrettably, discover that they’re living in a fool’s paradise.