Eye of the storm
ANY YEARS ago, as we hunkered down in preparation for the arrival of another seasonal storm, I began reflecting on the torment so many of us endure in our quest for survival, contrasted by the ease with which others prosper in this place we all call home.
For some, hurricane preparations involved a quick trip to the hardware store in short shorts and flip-flops to grab a new chainsaw because the lychee tree hangs too close to the gazebo; while others spent tense moments in serious contemplation about the feasibility of saving life, limb, and meagre possessions from certain death, injury and destruction should Mama Earth decide to unleash her periodic fury.
These contrasting life experiences often occur alongside each other, such as between neighbours on the same hill – those with the proper vantage, shielded behind wrought-iron gates and guarded by menacing hounds; and those who spent generations overshadowed by the powerful, yet still labour in some way for those at the mountain’s peak.
QUIRKS OF OUR CULTURE
Such sharp contrasts and noticeable contradictions have become features of Jamaican society, so much so that we have come to regard them as idiosyncratic quirks of our culture, amusing but not necessarily alarming. In that regard, Jamaica has remained a paradise of paradoxes ever since Europe’s primitive explorers claimed dominion over the world they newly stumbled upon, despite the presence of people native to the land.
Paradise is, therefore, a matter of perspective, and our perception of life in Jamaica is filtered through the lens that focuses our point of view. Some of us observe these stark contrasts in living colour, while others cruise around Jamaica peering through shades of soothing hues.
Many years ago, while bunkered in concrete and praying for salvation from an anthropomorphic hurricane, I started compiling some notes on the divergent lived realities of those resident to Jamaica, coincidental yet distinct, close yet miles apart.
Last week, as we all paused in anticipation of yet another calamity, I sat in quiet observation of the interactions between these different realities and was reminded of that poem that resulted from my earlier observations describing the many lives we live in Jamaica, spoken from the points of view of the various people living them.
As we waited for the eye of the storm, a moment of stillness before the resumption of chaos as usual, even the most terrifying beasts of this nation took rest. The guns stopped their incessant barking, the marauders sought shelter, and the idle hurriedly got to work. In those moments, our minds coalesced around the preservation of Jamaica, and a singularity in vision, purpose and consciousness momentarily emerged.
The period leading up to our imminent demise seemed to provide the greatest impetus for civic action; evidently, there can be no urgency in the absence of some sort of a national emergency that affects everyone, crime not being one of them.
It is usually in times of pending catastrophe that we realise the interconnectedness of our society, the value of community, and the power in our unified force. If only such power could be channelled for good towards the building of this nation.
BACK TO COMFORTING ILLUSIONS
Once the storm subsides, we return to our various comforting illusions, and toss some pity in the direction of the neighbours we mistakenly deem less fortunate.
We resume our characteristic assaults and grave disrespect; we perpetuate the exploitation of our forefathers against our brothers and sisters; and we exalt ourselves as righteous, despite deeds to the contrary.
In the eye of the storm and the clear face of danger, I sat in quiet contemplation of the future of the place I call home if it survived this latest natural disaster.
I wrote a poem called I Live in Jamaica, an excerpt of which I share with you:
I live where prayers can redirect hurricanes but can’t stop serial killers.
I live with the suffering victims of colonial rape.
I share a land with self-interested stewards and oblivious stooges.
I live life in debt, where informer f-i dead, and IMF holds the purse strings.
I use one phone to call di other, drive on fancy toll road, but can’t afford chicken back.
I live in Jamaica, Jah-mekya, Jimeyka, and Joh-meyka –
Depending on who you ask and where they are on the totem pole.
Where do you live?