Comforting Words: Sad State of Affairs

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Sad State of Affairs

"You have any suss'?" usually comes about five minutes into every conversation with my daughter.

'Suss' is gossip and as the months go by and our relationship deepens into a friendship, my daughter and I swap stories from our daily interactions with others.

On my drive home this afternoon she called and after telling me about her day at work Abi said "by the way, I have suss fi' give you!"

What she told me was not funny but I found myself having to pull over onto the side of the rural road to control the laughter that had overtaken me. Tears were flowing down my eyes, my sides were splitting and my belly was on the verge of bursting and I had to ask Abi to hang up.

Sitting on the side of the roadway my laughter turned to tears – of sadness and gratitude.

The 'suss' was about a young lady, same age as my daughter, who lives in the St. Catherine community from which we migrated to Canada. They have remained friends across the miles but their lives have evolved so very differently. My daughter's friend has an high school education but has been unemployed for at least a year now and has a three year old child for a man who is MIA.

Despite her lack of financial resources, employment and help from the child's father, this young lady's picture can be seen on Facebook each week with a new 'weave', in the latest dancehall outfit and on the arms of some DJ or a 'money man' as she captioned the last photograph.

Today, however, after partying the weekend away with the crew Miss Dancehall Queen called my baby girl who had just come home from her second part-time job to ask for $50. Apparently her three year old baby needed a fireman outfit to attend career day at his school!

"What the @$&* you just said Abi?" I screamed in the phone. When I get really annoyed my Jamaican accent and patois comes pouring out. "Har tree ear old hav' career day?!!!

"Are you %@@ kidding me? Which tree year old have career day? Did you ask her if you a di' baby father?"
By this time Abi was dying with laughter. My daughter is way too polite and calm to have asked her friend that. She merely told her that she did not have any money to send. I on the other hand could not let it go.

"Career day mi' backside!"

The more I thought about it the more ridiculous it seemed that a three year old had to attend a career day in a country where the 23 year old mother could not find a job. And the more I repeated it the laughter started to build and I had to pull over.

When I got back on the phone to Abi my laughter had been replaced by gratitude.

"Now you understand why we had to get you out of that place?" I asked Abi.

I have great confidence in my parenting and in my daughter's common sense but peer pressure can be a very powerful thing. So too culture and sadly the culture of Jamaica and many developing countries fosters the mentality that one can beg their way to heaven.

This has been the case for many moons now. I can recall in days long before internet and Western Union, writing many a letters for my mother to "friends" who had migrated basically saying "begging you kindly to please to send a little help."

When the responses would arrive, the envelope would be hurriedly torn, the letter shaken open to see if "anyting' in deh." The letter was of no importance if there wasn't a $10 or $20 bill "in deh." And this was not isolated to my home…it was a scenario played out in many homes then and even now that had someone " a foren" (overseas).

Jamaica's economy has been propped up by remittances since the 1970's. Despite recent reports that there has been a plunge due to the global recession, remittances to Jamaica "over this decade grew between 9.1 per cent and 20 per cent per year – averaging 12.6 per cent per year in the last eight periods," states an August 2009 report in Starbroek News. "Between 2000 and 2008, the transfers grew two and a half times from US$789 million to US$2.02 billion, amounting to 14 per cent of gross domestic product."

For the last seven years, I have been one of those overseas family member and friend who have been helping to keep the Jamaican economy marginally afloat each month by sending money to my mother.

I really do not begrudge doing that. Yes, there was a time I resented having to do so, especially when we were dancing on the poverty line here in Canada. However, as my faith strengthened and my forgiveness quotient increased, I visited and continue to visit Western Union every month and do what most Jamaican living overseas do – send money home.

But I pray that this cycle to will one day be broken. The call for $50 to buy a fireman suit for a 3 year old's career day is a clear sign that we are a ways away from that day.

Of course I recognize the disadvantage and the unlevel playing field that countries like Jamaica have to kick its ball around on. Yet, I cannot ignore that generation after generation have refused to get on a backhoe and start digging. Instead, you have young people like my daughter's friend dressing to the ninth to party and then buying a phone card to call "foren" to "beg a little help."

My daughter is a wise young woman. As we both continued to laugh at the image of a three year old dressed up in his fireman outfight attending his career day, she said "Actually I wanted to ask her if is me and her lie down to get the baby, but I didn't 'cause it's useless."

That's a sad and painful commentary about the land of my birth but many days, like today, I wonder whether that is the truth – "it's useless."


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