This month Dr Burnie A. Hines provides commentary on why fear is a genuine concern, when he visits Jamaica.
Commentary Jamaica Magazine

Genuine Fear and Concern In Jamaica

No, my genuine fear and concern has less to do with me, and more to do with those Jamaicans that consider me a genuine risk-taker. These are people that have my welfare at heart, and are very concerned for my safety as I frequent the shores of Jamaica, in my effort to contribute to my country, in the field of education. For more than fifteen years, I have been visiting Jamaica in an attempt to make a contribution to developmental education in the Island’s schools. No, you will not find my work mentioned in reports from the Ministry of Education. There was a time when I tried to get the attention of officials in Government, but that is an experience that I do not want to revisit. At the present time, I have established official contact with three schools in Jamaica. On my last visit, in November 2005, I spent more than three weeks on the Island, and was not able to get from central Jamaica to two of the schools in the eastern end of the Island.

Because I leave friends and families back in the United States, when I visit Jamaica, I am forced to keep lines of communication open. Therein lies my problem with fear. I am from central Jamaica, Manchester to be exact, and I stay at my friend’s house in Junction, St. Elizabeth when I visit the island. The surprising thing is that as soon as the plane touches down at the airport in Montego Bay, I tend to forget that I should be fearful when I visit Jamaica. I must confess that way back when we had to walk across the tarmac after deplaning, I was a bit fearful when that strong wind hit me coming down those aluminum steps from the plane. OK, so you are waiting for the real reason why I am fearful when it comes to visiting my homeland. You may have even been thinking that I had no good reason to fly into Montego Bay, instead of Kingston, right?

There are a number of reasons why fear is a genuine concern, when I visit Jamaica. Forget the issue of crime. That situation is a total embarrassment to all concerned. My best friend sent me an article recently, to document his reasons for being fearful with regard to my safety when I visit Jamaica. The article mentioned nothing about the risk associated with flying, not even the embarrassment of strip searches that I have been subject to, before boarding an airline. My wife, knowing how fond I am of my older pieces of personal garments, has insisted that she check my luggage for pieces of clothing that will embarrass her when she hears that I was strip-searched at the airport. She has even stumbled into the bathroom when I am showering and dressing for my trip to the airport. Wives are something else. I don’t know what we men would do without them.

Back to the article my best friend sent me in the mail. The caption announced that Jamaica was now the “Crime Capital” of the world! That’s that beautiful little speck of God’s creation, about 90 miles south of Miami, Florida, give or take as many miles as you want. The article contained hard data that was difficult to refute. I phoned my friend, in response to the article. Inasmuch as I informed him that when last I visited Jamaica, the more than 2 million inhabitants on the Island were still alive, I am not sure that I convinced him that it was OK for me to go back home whenever I feel like it. That crime scene is really giving Jamaica a black eye. The strange part about this whole issue is that there are some wonderful people living in Jamaica. I am not talking about those people that most of my concerned friends admit are relatively good people. You know, those people that are “somewhere up there?” I frequent Mandeville, the capital of my parish, Manchester, and I have to admit that there are some fantastic people in that town, doing some great things. I could mention the education scene in Mandeville, but I will let you visit and see for yourself. If you do, don’t forget to visit Northern Caribbean University. How can one be very fearful when one sees the appreciation that students in Jamaica show for education? Sometimes I think that the population in towns, outside of the areas in Jamaica that we call cities, are not nearly as fearful of the crime scene in Jamaica as we, the Diaspora generation are.

I must confess that I am fearful in Jamaica, and that I have good reasons to be. If you ever tried driving from any of our two international airports in Jamaica, it wouldn’t take much or long for you to be fearful. And it is not because we, outside of Jamaica, drive on the wrong side. On most of the roads in Jamaica, there are no sides! But my friend, that sent me the article, was not thinking anything about the roads and the transportation scene in Jamaica, no sir, he wasn’t. Neither have I informed him that the last two times I was in Jamaica I was involved in an accident. Don’t even go there. I hear you thinking that I was the cause of the accident. You are thinking that I step off the plane, get my luggage, stick my bags in the trunk of a rented car, and takes off down the road driving on the right hand side. I just told you that most of the roads in Jamaica do not have sides. I know that because I was born and raised in Jamaica. Down in South Manchester, where I am from, they paved the roads just about a few years ago. I know Jamaican roads.

Surprise! In the accidents that I have been involved, in Jamaica, I was never driving. I always felt that I would be safer being driven by one of our very skilled island drivers. Years ago, maybe four, I decided to buy a car in Jamaica. I wasn’t concerned about contributing to the economic growth of the island. No sir, I was fearful! My friend, who sent me the article, does not know the extent of what to be fearful about in Jamaica. He is not wrong concerning the crime and murder scene. That is a genuinely embarrassing situation. Roads, and driving in Jamaica is also a crime! Back to the issue of my beautiful, white Toyota Vista, that is still in the body shop in Jamaica. It was involved in an accident, back in late November 2005. We were driving on a piece of “snake,” posing as a road that slithers through the hills of Westmoreland. This snake/road passes through places like Bethel Town and New Market, towards the main road that runs from Sav-La-Mar to Santa Cruz. When all of us, in two cars, crawled out of these bundles of steal, unhurt, we decided to make light of the situation. It was a total of seven people, all up in each other’s faces, insisting that everybody else was wrong!

A situation like the above is another reason to be fearful in Jamaica. Nobody seems to understand the notion behind an accident. Most people seem to think that people involved in an accident do so with malice and forethought. In Jamaica, such situations are approached much more seriously, and often add to the country’s crime statistics. In this my latest accident encounter, I was the only semi-rational person. Considering that it was my car involved, and with a rented car, I could not understand why everyone was so intent on gaining the upper hand. I ended up being peacemaker, traffic director, mechanic, and legal counsel. You see, I know what to be fearful about in Jamaica. I am hoping that this will be the last accident my car will be involved in, in Jamaica. I am going to attempt to guarantee this by doing at least two things. The first is to drive my own car! The fact of the matter is that the worst that can happen is another accident. From what I observed, I should be able to do just as well, or better, driving my own car. There is no reason why everybody else is getting an accident off my car, except me. The second precaution I am going to take is to trade my car in for a vehicle that sits higher off the road surface. There are also more positive concomitant effects of this decision. There are still roads, (or excuses for roads) in South Manchester that require a high riding vehicle to navigate. So you ask what about the size of SUVs in relation to the width of the road? What width of what road are you talking about? Some of you have gone down Plowden Hill, heading to Little Ochie, chasing a state-of-the-art fish feed. Now you are agreeing with me and my opinion of certain Jamaican roads.

Serious crime, especially the murder rate, in Jamaica has to be brought under control. May the good lord bless law enforcement personnel in my homeland! There was a time when people, like my friend who sent me the article, were trying to tell me to be fearful of Jamaica’s law enforcement personnel. It started way back in “Gun Court” days. I told people that they should not have messed with that noble institution! I have been stopped by my share of men and women who put their lives on the line every day in Jamaica, to preserve some semblance of law on the streets. I usually come away, from each of these encounters with Jamaica’s uniformed law enforcers, having increased respect for their services. To think that these servants of the state walk out their front doors each morning, leaving wives and families, to tangle with some of the most lawless people in the world, is beyond comprehension. I wonder how much the government pays them for this kind of sacrifice. Don’t tell me that their financial remuneration borders on behavior that could be viewed as a crime.

Whom do I fear, when it comes to Jamaica? Not Mr. Adam’s son, I do not think so. When these fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters, dressed in Jamaica constabulary uniforms, stop me I am not very fearful. I even admire the hardware they carry in full view. To tell you the truth, that’s the closest I come to any type of firepower. The muzzles of their guns are usually at an angle that prevents me from looking down the barrel of their pieces! The other guys who pack this kind of metal are not as courteous. I really think that I have less to fear from uniformed gunslingers in Jamaica, regardless of whether they are Adams or eves! Blame law enforcement all you want, but Jamaica has a brand of lawlessness that has few or no equal anywhere in the world, unless we are dealing with a declared war.

So, you want to know where I am coming from, each time I visit Jamaica? I was fearful that you would ask a hard question. And the comment you just made, in your mind, comes close to hitting below the belt. I confess that I have lived in some dangerous areas of the eastern seaboard of the United States—Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, and Hartford. But we make guns in the United States! From where are you people getting such high caliber weapons in Jamaica? Who is exporting them to Jamaica, and who is importing them? They can’t be coming through Customs, and the way they frisk you when you board a plane, I doubt that they are coming in the pockets or luggage of law-abiding visitors to lovely Jamaica. I will admit that a sizeable percentage of the perpetrators of crime and violence in Jamaica could be schooled in foreign countries, but they will usually land on the shores of Jamaica without the tools to ply their trade.

This issue of crime in Jamaica has myriad questions that beg for answers. In the meantime, it is important for the powers that be, in Jamaica, to know that our sons and daughters are genuinely fearful of returning, even for short visits. It might well reach the point where not even the deaths of loved ones and relatives can get some of us to visit the land of our birth. And don’t blame my friend who sent me the article. He did not write it, and nothing in it was new to me. I should not quit without thanking all who are working hard to reduce the fear factor in Jamaica, as well as allaying the fears of those of us who are committed to returning, even under conditions that give us ample reason to fear.

About the author

Dr. Burnie A. Hines