The sheltered ones are not yet born

I love having heated conversations about what’s wrong with our country. It’s honestly one of my favourite pastimes. And there’s no end of things to discuss: the Jamaican dollar on the decline, unemployment on the rise, homophobia, violence, the health sector, the education sector. . . the list goes on and on.

Which is why, just the other day, after having a celebratory “You finished your degree! (And I’m only halfway through mine)” dinner with some of my close friends – minus the bitterness – it was perfectly normal to delve into a conversation on why our country is going nowhere fast. This particular discussion, courtesy of the Minister of Education Rev. Ronald Thwaites, was about his passionate declaration that condoms should never be distributed in schools. And then we continued to be outraged that the president of the Jamaica Parent-Teachers Association wants to kick pregnant girls out of high school.

(The illicit affair between church and state is another thing we like to complain about).

We talked and talked about how backwardly this country is being led, and about how much our leaders need to open their eyes to what’s really going on. We talked about the sexism so deeply ingrained in our society that a public figure sees no problem condemning girls in a situation that is physiologically impossible for them to get into alone.

We talked like we knew what we were talking about, like we were defending the Jamaican people against the evils of their leaders, like we understood how people in this country thought and acted.

First. World. Problems.

More like how we thought they acted.

The past week I spent on a rural community experience in St. Mary has made me realize that we know very little about the way Jamaicans think and feel. What we see as rational thought based on international ideals has absolutely no bearing for the mother of three in rural St. Mary who goes to church every Sunday and wants her children to be holy paragons of virtue. Our concessions to the nature of society would probably be viewed as concessions to evil. “Condom inna school? You ah tell de pickney dem fi have sex!”

I thought those ideas were expressed by a minority that could be brought to see reason, when in fact they are expressed by a majority whose beliefs are their reasons. We are by and large a conventional society; most Jamaicans don’t like new things or ideas. The government, then, is not leading us against out will. Rather, we are the wayward goat dragging our owners along the wrong path.

The Bible had sheep. We have goats.

The few and many who live in cosmopolitan areas like Kingston or Montego Bay get so much more exposure, but we are so much more sheltered. We really have no clue about what’s going on in our country, about how the average man thinks, about what he believes and how he acts. And until we can tap in to that well of understanding, this country is never going to get anywhere.

In one of my lectures they talk about the community development approach, and how when you’re trying to effect change the needs of an organization must first be subverted to the needs of the community. She is not going to jump all over your family planning clinic until you fix the roads in her housing scheme. It’s a reasonable system, and completely appropriate for our society. But the government is not doing that. Instead, the leaders and the led are often pulling in completely opposite directions at the same time, getting us exactly nowhere.

At the end of the day there’s only one question to ask: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes*?


*Translated from Latin as “Who will guard the guards themselves?” or as I meant it “Who will lead the leaders?”

5 thoughts on “The sheltered ones are not yet born

  1. You have really hit the nail on the head here, Robyn. When I first came to Jamaica 25 years ago, I was surprised to find out (quite quickly) that Jamaicans are NOT as laid-back and permissive as they are often portrayed. They are very conservative; they would rather espouse many of President Bush’s beliefs and policies than President Obama’s. We who write and talk and go on TV etc to try and get these issues straight (I actually spoke on the pregnant teens in schools issue several weeks ago on CVM) – we must realize that we are just trying to drag this very conservative majority into the “real” world! You are right. There is a kind of stalemate between the people and the leaders. We have to take it a step at a time and then we will make progress. Meanwhile, we must continue to advocate for what is right…Even if it is not the majority view.


    1. First off, thank you for such a well-thought out response!

      Secondly, I am glad I am not alone in realizing this. Taking it a step at a time is definitely the way we have been going so far, but we are trying to change the behaviour of an entire nation. Changing one person is hard enough; this is very depressing work. How can you manage to keep the faith as it were?


      1. You are most welcome! The answer to your question is, I don’t exactly know… I just keep bashing away at my blog etc. because I don’t know how else to do things. I like to write, so I use that skill and hope it will change things gradually. At least force people to think, even if they don’t agree with me – that doesn’t matter to me. I don’t find it depressing really. I just keep my head down and keep going. It’s the only way.


      2. I wish I had your forbearance, but I find myself getting too easily frustrated and then just giving up. It’s hard to imagine a future where Jamaicans have changed for the better, but I suppose we have no choice but to keep trying.


      3. I do get incredibly frustrated. Just try to let it all wash over me. Yes, I find it hard to imagine a better Jamaica, quite often. I guess I just can’t give up though! You must try not to either! :-)


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