Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Friday, December 21, 2007

Why should I be insulted?

Every year I am insulted when I arrive in The Bahamas and it's because of Jamaica. I don't know who I should blame, the Bahamians or the Jamaicans. “Full search mandatory” the Customs officer told me, explaining that for most visitors checks are made randomly, but for Air Jamaica flights every passenger's bag is checked. “Oh and the belt ain't wo'kin' so you have to push the bags yourself” she adds as I hauled my Santa-like sacks onto the belt. Of course, I had no drugs or guns in my bags and I passed through with no problem. But why do I have to endure this every time I use Air Jamaica to The Bahamas? America has far more crime but American Airlines passengers don't get this treatment. Is it about tourist dollars? I don't endure this when I travel with Air Jamaica to any other Caribbean island, especially Barbados, where Air Jamaica is also Barbados' flagship carrier and provides a direct link between the two islands.

Thank you all you drug smugglers and petty criminals who have tainted the reputation to every decent law-abiding Jamaican. I wish you a very unmerry Christmas and a pox-ridden New Year. There are many decent people who readily advocate the kind of brutal punishment that is still practised in some Muslim countries for petty crimes and crimes against the person. When I feel shamed of my national heritage because of these criminals I can understand such sentiments.

The irony is that The Bahamas is no Eden. Like Jamaica, it too is scourged as a transit point by drug-running problems, and is famous for “night fishing” from Bimini or other islands close to Florida. Several major drug dealers are employing expensive lawyers to help them avoid having to face full justice.

The Bahamas is also Sodom but does not seem to know it. This is a country obsessed with people's sexual behaviour, where people openly talk about “sweet hearting” (being unfaithful to a partner), yet any sign of sexual misconduct by politicians gets blown into a major issue. Remember Shame (sorry Shane) Gibson and the late Nicole Smith being photographed with the Minister having a close constituency meeting in his office that looked remarkably like a bed? When I arrived last night I saw the sensational tabloid newspaper The Punch headline “MP caught...sexing”. The story is about opposition PLP MP Alfred Gray who had been caught by police euphemistically "in his birthday suit" with a "female companion" who was decidedly not his wife in a church car park close to his home and was outed with front page pictures by the more sedate The Tribune (see latest report). The MP was given a "harsh warning" by the police officers. That makes no sense. Ain't you all got nothing better to do? In Jamaica newspapers don't waste time reporting such rubbish: “We know unnu all a sexin' but a no fiwi bizniz. That is between you and you missus. Why you wan' put dat inna paper?” More of an issue for me would be the fact that this MP is also a deacon at a Methodist Church. What method in his madness? Where is a man like this leading his flock if he is caught under some "other woman'" frock?

Heaven help you in The Bahamas if you are a gay man. The same phobia that engulfs Jamaica is present here too, where there is no tolerance for "sissies" as gays are disparagingly called.

The other sadder side is that here is a country of only about 300,000 people, whose average income is the highest in the English speaking Caribbean, which is showing signs of sliding down a slippery slope of social degradation. It is now being plagued by one the ills that has haunted and shamed Jamaica for decades. Murders and violent crimes are on the rise. The number of murders through mid-December (74) has already exceeded the total for 2006. That translates into a rate per head of population that is half that of Jamaica's, which records 1500 murders a year for its 3 million people, which means that it is lower but still very high. And solutions? “All the politicians are talking is foolishness” my father-in-law rails; he should know as he is a keen observer of international developments and a barrister. So like Jamaica no credible solutions are being proposed to deal with violent crimes, and people continue to pay for this failure with their lives. We'll see for long that will go on.

I may be wrong but it seems to me that The Bahamas has hit a cycle of decadence. The murders is one marker. I put much of the blame on the US, or at least the ease with which Bahamians can get access to goods and services from America, and the extent to which American culture floods the islands. Car ownership in Nassau/New Providence is ridiculously high and Nassau has so few roads that congestion is just horrible every day. Conspicuous consumption is a national sport. The currency is pegged 1:1 with the US dollar so that gives immense spending power. The islands are buoyed by financial services and tourism but barely produce anything so most consumer needs are imported. Any kind of bling is available tax free and Bahamians love name brands! Gucci, Fendi, Ralph Lauren, Rolex, diamonds etc are must haves. It's a consequence of not really having had to work to get rich so there is little understanding of the sacrifices and hard work that are usually needed to get wealthy, as would be the case in Singapore, for example. With a sense of privilege running like water through the veins it's little wonder why many younger men (yes, it's a boy thing) are seeing that the best route to quick richness is through crime and now the stakes are raised because guns are easily obtained.

But look out. The same problem that makes Bahamian Customs officers humiliate Jamaicans is ready to bite them. As Jamaica has seen, once the guns get entrenched in the society it's a devil of a job to get them out again. None of the Christian pleading—and yes, there's a growth industry in that too—is making a jot of difference. In fact, some of the church leaders seem to be contributors to this malaise with their views on how being good Christians gives some rights to being flagrant in all forms of behaviour.

I am going to enjoy my next two weeks in Nassau and look forward to the conch salad and grouper and macaroni pie and turkey and ham and Christmas cake an sky juice. But I will keep my eyes and ears open to sense better how far down the slope The Bahamas has slid.

God's in his heaven but we know that all is not right with the world.

No comments: