Good night KC Old Boys and Guests! Thank you for your kind invitation. I am honoured to be here tonight to speak about a topic that is near and dear to my heart.
I am particularly grateful to Glen Laman for that wonderful introduction. He is, without a doubt, one of Jamaica’s’ finest who goes way beyond the call of duty to promote the interest of the KCOBs, Jamaica and the entire Diaspora. The first time I saw him, I told my wife: “That guy over there looks as if he could be my brother” I had to go over and introduce myself. We have been friends ever since. But Glen is everybody’s friend. Ladies and Gentlemen, let's show our appreciation for your friend and mine, Mr. Glen Laman.
Yesterday, I read the following in the KCOB Newsletter about one of your famous alumni, Principal of the Norman Manley School of Law and Rhodes Scholar, Mr. Stephen Vasciannie: “But unlike most of us who studied abroad, Vasciannie eschewed the lure of financial security and comfort of America and returned to his native land.” When he was asked why he choose to return to Jamaica?, he said: “I responded to the pull of my roots. Partly because it's home: I needed to find out whether it was true that you can never return home. But, perhaps more importantly, I had never seen myself as a migrant while I was away; I had always wanted to live in Jamaica and to make my contribution here. So I returned home when I believed the time was opportune.”
After I read the article, I was inspired to write the following poem in an attempt to capture the lament of the Diaspora.
“Kotching in Atlanta”
I didn’t come to American to stay
I only came to learn and earn a little money
To go back home to build a house, buy a car and maybe a bar
But I now have seven grand pickney here
Who don’t know the joys and have no interest in the place I call home
I yearn for the Rock but the rock won’t have me
While I am kotching in Atlanta, my heart is in Jamaica
I don’t want to stay but I cannot go
See me daya between the sheets of the bed I made
With no idea where the grass is greener
I try to duplicate Jamaica in Atlanta but the patties are not Tastee or Juici
I play dominoes, drink rum punch and Red Stripe Beer
I can eat escovitch fish, curry goat and rice but it’s not Coosho’s
I can get fried fish, bammy and festival but it’s not at Hellshire Beach
I scream for run raisin ice-cream but it’s not Devon House
I watch the cricket match but it’s not at Sabina Park
I read the Atlanta Journal Constitution but it is not the Gleaner
I enjoy all the comforts of home but it’s not home
I miss Mass Birtie, Mother Blake, Uncle Benji, Brother Boogs and Aunt Poochos
Greeting me with “mawnin” and “God bless you” when I share what I have with them
Sorrel and fruitcake in December only make me long for Father Christmas
I don't want a "Merry Christmas" I want a "Happy Christmas"
I can watch 200 stations on my TV but find nothing to watch
Instead of pumpkin beefsoup on Saturday I now eat hamburgers and beans
Mi Belly full but mi hungry
My favorite Jamaican joke was originally told by Tony Winkler and goes like this: “Tony said he was sitting on a plane headed for Los Angeles and while his seatmate admitted to being born in Jamaica, he wanted nothing to do with the country of his birth. Tony’s seatmate took great pains to point out that he not only separated from Jamaica, he got a divorce. “The people are arrogant and illiterate, drive recklessly, the place is dirty and riddled with crime”, He was going on and on about the backwardness of the country when the plane took a sudden dip to which he loudly exclaimed: “RASS!” The moral to the story is “once a Jamaican, always a Jamaican.
My second favorite story is about four Kingston Ginalds playing dominoes and contemplating what will help Jamaica to become a first world country. They had seen the Peter Sellers movie, the “Mouse that Roared” and all were in agreement that the way forward was to declare war on the United States. Their thinking was that “after the US mash us up, they would do what they always do, help the vanquished to prosperity like they did for Germany and Japan”. One of the men, however, was greatly concerned and when asked what was wrong with the plan, he finally kissed his teeth and said: “Me no know yu know, suppose we win?” And why not, suppose there was a track meet between the United States and Jamaica, who do you think would prevail?
Let me get immediately to the question that was posed to me: “Is Jamaica a Failed State?’ I am sure if this question was asked of all of you, a third would say yes, a third would say no and a third would say maybe. Some would assert that it’s a failed JLP government but not a failed state. What we can all agree on is that TG is now a failed state.
With a full recognition of our problems, I definitely and without doubt claim that not only is Jamaica NOT a failed state but a really great country where you can find happiness and prosperity. I just wish more people were more like Stephen Vasciannie who are willing to set down roots and contribute to the development of our country.
I get very upset when people learn that I retired and returned to Jamaica and they respond: “fe wa? Everyone is trying to get the hell out of here and you are coming back?” If we stop focusing so much on our shortcomings and trying to be anywhere other than Jamaica, more of us may discover that Jamaica is a highly organized society with wonderful traditions and culture. I have been back for two and a half years and I have never had a problem or a confrontation with anyone.
According to Professor William Zartman, a failed state:“Is paralyzed and inoperative, laws are not made, order is not preserved and societal cohesion is not enhanced…As a territory, it is no longer assured security by a central GOVERNMENT, As the authoritative political institution, it has lost its legitimacy.”
We are not that. We are a working democracy and will continue to enjoy the rights of citizenship. On an everyday basis, the country works and everyone can go about our business with the greatest of ease. There is not a better vacation destination in the world. Montego Bay has four world class golf courses within three miles.
When I am foreign and read about all the bad things happening in Jamaica, like you, I am scared to death and wonder why I am living there. When I am there, I go about my business without a care in the world. So, please bear that in mind as you lament our condition. When you read the Newspapers, they are reporting on about 1% of what goes on.
Admittedly, I enjoy several advantages, not the least of which I can purchase a ticket and visit practically any country of the world while the average Jamaica must wait for up to two years for a visa. My good health and income affords me to frequently stay in our fantastic hotels, play our fabulous golf courses, eat incredible meals at our five star restaurants with wonderful friends and wake up each morning with joy in my heart---it is an incredible life.
But as I position myself to get the best view of each lovely sunrise with a hunk of corn pone (You don’t know about corn pone? Hell a top, hell a bottom, Hallelujah in the middle) and a cup of Blue Mountain coffee in hand and each sunset with a Red Stripe, I am constantly wondering whether the future of this romantic place we call Jamaica is represented by the coming up or going down of the sun. Is this the real deal or a fool's paradise?
While we continue to squander many opportunities and have badly mismanaged our resources, I believe we are represented by a rising sun. While it is not shining very bright at the moment, I believe in my heart that it will be morning again in Jamaica. Challenges come to make us, not break us. Our abundant variety of flowers, vegetables and fruit trees leads me to believe that God has blessed us in a very special way. Our wealth includes rich and abundant soil, lots of rivers and fresh water, talented and hard working people, a pleasant climate, sunshine and rain embraced by the Caribbean sea.
Most of all, we have “brand Jamaica”---we set the pace. In addition to our sprinters, our hairstyles, music and entertainers, we have the best coffee in the world, the best beaches, the best rum, the best beer, the best sugar, the best aluminum, the best herb and spices, the best honey (logwood) and yes, the best ganja. We are a land of unlimited possibilities.
Japan has no natural resources except the drive and talent of their people and they are the second largest economy in the world. Singapore obtained independence the same time as Jamaica and they are a booming economy. Chile went from a poor third world economy to first world in ten years. Their secret formula? Chile decided to fight crime and educate their people. Their citizens took over from there.
My optimism notwithstanding, over the past two and a half years I have been despairing about our increasing problems:
Our imports are up and our exports are down.
More and more of our annual budget is committed to servicing our formidable national debt
Deaths from automobile accidents are outrageous. Every day, someone dies from an automobile accident.
Our children have half day school with half of them not able to pass their GSAT and suffer from lack of parental guidance as most of their mothers are in other countries taking care of other people’s Pinckney. What were we thinking when we established half day school for our children? What are they supposed to do from 1:00 pm until they go to bed? Couldn’t we have anticipated that young people would get involved with gangs, drugs, sex and dancehall music? Japanese children go to school 8 hours per day, six days per week.
On the one hand, there is no better high school education than KC, and the other traditional high schools. At the same time, A third of our citizens cannot read. I was very sad when a gentleman told me that his father told him that if he could dig a yam hill, that was enough.
Until recently, Garrison Dons and Gunmen who were out of control. New York City, Ladies and gentlemen with a population of eight million had 400 homicides last year and Jamaica with less than three million had more than sixteen hundred. It is even more troubling that we had less than 50 convictions for murder.
But God is just. He will not sleep forever. Criminals may seem invincible, but in the end, goodness always triumphs and evil fails. History teaches us that time is on the side of law abiding citizens who just need to recognize that we are blessed with brilliant opportunities disguised as insoluble problems.
Then came our moment of truth. After much consternation, a few weeks ago, our PM decided that we had enough. Dudus and the criminals are finally on the run.
Just before the incursion into TG, I read a quote in the Gleaner from a resident of TG who said, "Dudus is next to God. Jesus died for our sins and we are willing to die for Dudus." She demanded that the authorities leave him alone.
It reminded me that for a thousand years, the Japanese people believed that their emperor was God. After the Allies occupied Japan and the Emperor was made to declare on the radio that he was not God and was just an ordinary man with no Godlike powers, thousands of Japanese citizens, the true believers, committed suicide, not being able to accept that the god that they worshipped and prayed to was just another human being, nothing more or less.
I also thought of Plato's Allegory of the Cave. Imagine, writes Plato, a tribe of people who spend their entire lives in a cave. Their only exposure to the outside world was the shadows that were projected on the sides of the cave through the cracks on the opposite walls. During an earthquake or some other earthy disturbance, a member of the tribe escaped and was confused and dazzled by the fantasy to which he was exposed. As he was marveling at the sights and sounds, him buck him toe on a rockstone and it hurt. He walked into a tree that he thought was just a fantasy and hit him head. He fell into a river and almost drowned and gradually came to realize that he had things backwards. This was the reality and he and his people were living a lie and only shadows of the truth.
Having found truth, he immediately went back to his people and with great excitement, courage and conviction proceeded to enlighten and plead with them to accept his truth and they all said: G’wey fool. You know not of what you speak. Everyone knows that the shadows are the true reality. They even killed him for his blasphemy.
I grew up in Woodlands, St. Elizabeth, with the certain knowledge that:
1. The Bible was written by God and every word must be taken literally;
2. If you were caught in the rain you would catch cold;
3. Night air was dangerous so children had to be called in when it got dark;
4. Crop failure, hurricanes, earthquakes, sickness and death were acts of a vengeful God;
5. Anything foreign was better than anything produced in Jamaica;
6. If it is written it is true. Arguments would immediately cease once someone produced a “writing”, particularly a Gleaner article. "Why would they write it if it wasn't true?"?
As I discovered that science nicely explained away many of our traditional beliefs, on one of my trips back to Jamaica armed with a substantial education, I liberally shared the knowledge I had acquired in an effort to correct these myths. My grandmother just smiled. She said I was still too young to know anything while the rest of my people more aggressively ran me: G’wey!
Some of the residents of Tivoli Gardens know no other reality but the see no evil approach to life. Dudus, the President, the Godfather, dispenser of the proceeds of crime, merely ask that the recipients of his largeess reciprocate with loyalty and obedience. "He was a hero who kept order and more importantly protected us from abusive police. He could stand up to anybody."
How does a criminal strongman capture a community? Well, he provides quick fixes to people's problems. What could be wrong with that? Yet as time progresses, the easy way becomes easier and easier until it seems you have no other choice, until you want no other choice. It is at that moment, when you have an established need of such a person, that the price is exacted. While for those of us who can support themselves, the greatest treasure is freedom; for those who are starving and desperate, freedom may not be much of a price to pay for their daily bread and daily fix for school fees, uniforms, lunch money, court costs, food, etc.
Mr. Coke used the proceeds of his various enterprises to prey on poor Jamaicans looking for quick fixes because the government failed to provide the framework of education and economic resources to help them out of their dependent relationships.
Unfortunately, a vacuum of power will result with the removal of Dudus. So, what is to become of the many citizens of TG who have grown used to dependency and are now destitute?
I cry for my beloved country because some of our people are so badly neglected and mis-educated that they are willing to drink the “kool-aid” of fast money and quick fixes that the criminal element offers. My plea is: please don’t drink the kool-aid! The most predictable road to independence, long term happiness and prosperity is integrity, scholarship and hard work.
Let us stop this conspiracy of silence and form a coalition of the law abiding so we can persistently fight crime and promote prosperity in Jamaica. Each of us has a choice to make. Every member of our society has the power to act in the interest of good. When someone is not afraid to die, they immediately become powerful. Each of us must commit to a future when evil will not feel at home in our country. One man or woman with a cause, courage and God becomes a majority.
If there is no struggle, there is no progress. You cannot have crops without ploughing up the ground and you cannot bake a cake without breaking some eggs. We should never surrender to the menace of evil in our society. Let’s have no truce with criminals. They are the people who are invested in preserving poverty and promoting the rule of the jungle rather than the rule of law.
If they continue to do their worse, let’s double our efforts to do our best. There is nothing wrong with Jamaica that what is right with Jamaica cannot fix. Let us be excellent to each other. More than cleverness, we need kindness and courage.
I hope my talk tonight will spur you to action. If not you, who?. What we are famous for doing is understand and participate meaningfully in all the other countries of the world. Wherever I go, I find Jamaicans doing incredible things for their adopted countries. What we do worse is understand and invest in our own country. Every little bit you do will help little bit.
Our only hope is for the rich and poor to come together for the good of the country. My fear is that it will be too late when the rich finally reach out to the poor, they may find that the poor has turned to hate. I hope we aspire to a better Jamaica and not bitter Jamaicans.
Thank you for your kind attention and may God continue to bless you all!
(June 19, 2010)
Dr. Kong is President of the Heart Institute of the Caribbean Foundation and retired CEO of the Association of Black Cardiologists.