Living in a Tenement Yard – Part 1

Tenement Yard,’ is not included in my Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary. I have had this dictionary from ‘Wappy kill Fillo’ and so it may very well be in a newer edition. I nonetheless came across a similar word. It is Tenement House—n: an apartment house used as a dwelling…one meeting minimum standards of sanitation, safety & comfort and occupied by poorer families…usually in a city.”

While the above is the definition of tenement house, Tenement Yard in the vernacular of Jamaican Culture takes on a number of different meanings. Tenement Yard- n: ghetto housing project…where tenants chat each other’s business, quarrel every live long day and harbors bad mind, malice, covetousness and envious ways against each other.’

JacobKiller’ Miller in 1976 chronicled his version with the lyrics of “Dreadlocks can’t live in a tenement yard…too much watchie watchie watchie, too much su-su su-su su-su…”

Yet, while Dreadlocks cannot live in a tenement yard many baldheads’ have no other choice than to make best of this their humble place of abode. In most cases the houses are reasonable habitable. Nonetheless, there are tenants whose goal is to ‘move up in life’ and get out; thus setting a better foundation for their family. Others are just satisfied with ‘a yah suh mi born an’ a yah suh mi a stay’ and in essence, there becomes a permanent dwelling for them and even to their third and fourth generation.

The following though, is about those who are trying their utmost best to leave despite the financial hardships that besiege them. It is in the children the parents see this hope to be realized. Those sharing the dream go about their ways respectfully, and to their children the lessons of goodwill, non-violence, manners, ambition and the need to study one’s book and get a good education are emphasized.

Tenement Yard Mentoring

This concept arises from the constant encouragement, nurturing and support of adults of a tenement yard to the children towards their academics. The elders want the children to thrive towards excellence despite the poor environment that they live in. Such mentoring usually establishes a stabled long-term relationship with a child or a youth even into adulthood. It is an informal way of ‘pushing,’ and at the same time heaping praise and adulation on the youngsters. They do not want them to slip through the very cracks of failure, which they the seniors have already fallen through.

The children’s progression are seen as a way to help them both in future years scale the heights of poverty, and to make them proud as they display to the nation the fact that ‘tenement yard pickney can ton out to sinting good’.

Tenement Yard Support Group

Children and youth whose families are unstable and /or dysfunctional due to substance abuse or mental disorders, or where there has been family violence and abuse/neglect are well loved and cared for by other tenants of a tenement yard.

Children and adults with developmental disabilities are assisted and are taught survival skills rather than be ignored or be pitted.

The caregivers are just kind-hearted ordinary poor people who are no trained professionals; many are barely functionally literate and are not even financially viable themselves, but with a lifetime of experiences, that creates wisdom… ‘Dem ton dem han and mek fashion.’

The tenants in a communal way struggle to provide the sustenance to life and living, sharing each other’s grief and triumph, securing and upholding the sacredness of Bob Marley’s message in song of a Jamaica with, ‘One love and one heart.’

Support to stay in School

This is perhaps the most preached teachings in a tenement yard along with the call for discipline, respect and manners. (Manners carry you through the world) It is a lesson for all, from the well behaved to the ‘Tommy troubles,’ straight down to the teen mothers and those who are on the verge of dropping out.

Successful scholars have emerged from tenement yard, passing their exams to high schools, colleges and universities to (holding down big time jobs.) They are a source of inspiration, pride and glory to the entire neighborhood and in particular the younger children.

When students of a tenement yard excel to the level where they represent their schools in sports and/or televised academic competitions or are feature in the newspaper, it gives a great sense of satisfaction to the whole community. It provides tenement yard people with a sense of vindication over the ‘bigger heads’ that have written them off. This achievement gives to them a sense of purpose, and with their continued efforts and the children’s’ hard work, dedication and ambitious drive, they know even much greater can be attained.

There are positive outcome associated with tenement yard upbringing. The devotion and love and positive reinforcements of adults, especially during challenging and difficult times, create improvements in social interactions and academic performances of children. It also helps in developing social and cognitive skills and builds their confidence and self-esteem.

(It noh matah wey y’u kum fram, y’u can become what you want to be…zeen)

About the author

Kharl Daley