Eye of the storm

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Bri­anPaul Welsh Brian-Paul Welsh is a writer and pub­lic af­fairs com­men­ta­tor. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com and broan­paul.welsh@gmail.com, or tweet @is­land­cynic.

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?

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