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Is so we stop!

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One of the issues that seemed to have influenced the Jamaican people to opt out of the Federation was the belief that the islands of the Eastern Caribbean would have been an economic burden on them. Later, the region opted for the alternative route of a free trade association, CARIFTA, which later graduated to CARICOM. In those early efforts at regional integration, it was found necessary to divide the region into Less Developed and More Developed countries.{{more}} Economic status was the guiding principle in this, but along with that went the image of ‘small islander’. This had little to do with size, but involved development beyond the mere economic and their perception of our state of life. Even later when Jamaica began to fall on rough times and our dollar was stronger, the image of ‘small islander’ remained. Even the small island of Barbados would see us as ‘small islanders’. And we accepted this. The image one has of one’s self determines not only how one sees one’s self, but also how one acts. We might be economically disadvantaged, but do we have to act like a backward country with backward people?

What am I talking about? On Sunday last, while driving to the leeward side of the island, I was stopped just before the cemetery at Lowman’s Hill and told to make a diversion. I asked where the road was taking me and was told simply to follow the road. So, I proceeded on my merry way before I was stopped by a group of boys, who shouted and told me I had passed my turn-off point. So, I asked why there wasn’t a sign indicating that. They agreed with me and were surprised that I was so calm about it. I gathered then that it had happened to other people who really didn’t find it funny and showed that openly. I turned and then took another road at an intersection, followed it and got to a dead end. The Leeward highway project has been operating now for more than a year, so one has to ask why there are sometimes not signs indicating the diversions and pointing to the direction in which one is supposed to travel? Admittedly, they are often put in place, but certainly not always so.

I am reminded of one of Paul Keanes Douglas’ jokes. An elderly lady in Grenada was driving in the area where she lives when she suddenly turned right and was hit by a vehicle travelling behind her. When she was questioned about her refusal to signal, she responded, “But everybody know this is where I live!” This is how we operate here. The streets in Cane Garden have names, most of them, if not all, named after flowers. At one time there was a road map at the entrance and one would have been guided accordingly. Not so today. If you indicate to someone that you live on Jasmine Street, that means little, because the question is, how do you find it? The streets are not labelled alphabetically, so you are left in the dark. Another common absurdity occurs when work is being done on a road and traffic is not allowed. With no sign at the beginning of the road you drive until you meet the site of work and then realize that you can go no further. This, in most cases, means reversing, sometimes for a long distance.

As I speak about this, I am reminded of another traffic story. About four months ago, I crossed paths with a driving instructor, who was teaching a young lady to drive. I saw the learner in action for about a month. Then one day, the instructor told me that the lady had had her licence for a few months, but couldn’t reverse. She was moving to a neighbouring country and was taking her car and therefore needed to learn to reverse. Could you imagine someone driving for about six months, but not knowing how to reverse! The fact that it took him more than a month to teach her to reverse must lead you to ask some serious questions.

There are many more traffic stories that can be told, but there are so many other things that need to be said about our approach to business and the state of services here. I buy coconuts on Friday mornings from a man who has been plying his trade from his truck for many years. One day another truck parked up next to him with coconuts to sell. I was astonished. There were so many other spots around town that could have been used. Because my coconut vendor is well known, most persons go to him, so his competitor has to wait until he is finished to attract customers. Is so we really stop!

To talk about the state of services in our country will require an article by itself. Sometimes you get totally frustrated, especially when it comes from elements of the private sector that you expect to have a more enlightened approach. The banks continue to amaze me. You go into one of them and you see a long line and then realize that there are only two tellers. Why isn’t there someone monitoring this and making the necessary adjustments? The banks I use as an example, but it applies to many others, including government institutions that provide us with services. Clearly our complacency dictates how they serve us. With the state of employment as it is, many people become ‘higglers’ overnight, selling virtually anything at hand. But little consideration is given to location and presentation and even cleanliness. They assume that we will accept anything, especially if it is cheap. But that is how we stop!

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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