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Oh look! The economy is contracting. How nice! The world outside my window has been transformed into a SELF-SOCIETY. A place where , if you stop watching your back for just one minute, particularly at night, you stand a fairly good chance of getting ripped off or robbed by someone seeking to adjust to his/her own little economic depression. A city where you have to hustle to avoid getting hustled.

Oh yes, you better believe the unbelievable( whether you want to or not): Kingston is getting worse.

Now, when you're talking about a city like Kingston, you have to be very careful who you blame for all the problems and strife and bad television programming. For example, its still considered a "diss" to call someone a "teef" in public, even if you make such an accusation while the person you are accusing is in the process of prying your burglar bars apart with a car jack. You see, although most residents know that Kingston is dangerous, technologically-retarded , sewage-challenged and corrupted at nearly every level, nobody wants to be the scapegoat.Pretty understandable when you consider the fact that so many goats in Jamaica are doomed to have their heads chopped-off with a rusty cutlass once they can be caught.

In any case, a lot of people who live here automatically blame the "corrupted, short-sighted and disconnected government." In fact, blaming the government for everything from stray cows in Cherry Garden to naked mad-people in Grants-Pen to mutated six-eyed fish at Hellshire beach is pretty much a cultural norm these days. Even the little children can be overheard playing games with disturbing names such as "HIDE AND GO SEEK THE MISSING PUBLIC FUNDS" or "ILLITERATE, UNDERFED COPS AND ROBBERS. "

Still others, particularly those people who refer to themselves as "intellectuals" point the finger at the IMF and other foreign entities that have "sucked Jamaica's resources dry" without giving anything back. To be sure, many say that the island has been "exploited." However, one has to be even more careful when listening to the opinion of any Jamaican who readily identifies themselves as an "intellectual" in this haven for the ignorant. Indeed, to call yourself an "intellectual" in Jamaica is somewhat equivalent to walking into a police convention and screaming: "HEY, YOU BUNCH OF PIGS!! LOOK AT THIS AK-47 I USED TO ROB 6 LIQUOR STORES!!"

Its never smart to blow your cover.

Anyway, just about everyone has some opinion regarding the current conditions in Kingston. But, just because I'm in the mood , I've decided to talk a little bit about several of the common EFFECTS associated with Jamaica's failing socio-economic structure. As you will see, living through an apocalypse is more annoying than you might imagine.

EFFECT #1: TAXI DRIVERS.

Since I don't own a car and I'm not crazy enough (yet) to walk around at night in this place, I use a lot of taxi's to get from point A to point B. I have 3 choices when looking to hire one of these wasteland pirates and their four-wheeled deportee ships:

1) Get into a taxi and give the destination without agreeing on a price first. If , by some chance , the stink in the taxi or the reckless driving doesn't kill me and I actually get to where I'm going, I then give the driver what I think is appropriate or normal (like everything else here, taxi's are not regulated). At this point I usually end up getting into an profane argument because almost every taxi driver in this city is a HUSTLER who will ALWAYS attempt to get more than he is owed. Being a bottom feeder in the increasingly cloudy aquarium of Kingston , the typical taxi driver will fight for any crumb he can get since he is unable to catch anything bigger. Unfortunately , as a student, I am also on a limited crumb-budget , and so, I am far more likely to get stabbed to death by some irate slob for $20 (JA) than a government official or one of those "evil"visiting CEO'S from a foreign, bloodsucking agency. Oh well, at least more taxi drivers are murdered than anyone else in this city. I wonder why?

2) I haggle out a price with the taxi driver before I get into the taxi. If you have the energy to stand there and act as if you're lower on the food chain than he is, you can usually get the price you want. If not, you must either pay what he wants or find another taxi- something not usually difficult to do because there are more white Toyota's with gold-crown air fresheners, stripping tint and a smelly idiot muttering the words "HALF-WAY-TREE" than Kingston's narrow streets can handle.

3) Jump into a "robot" taxi. This means you will have to sit 5 to a seat , usually tucked underneath someone's armpit or balanced precariously over the stick shift. In this case, you pay what everyone else is paying (usually not more than $50(JA) in-town) and risk being stopped by the police-in which case you will have to pay a little more to make the cop go away. That's one nice thing about a contracting economy: if you're caught committing an offense , you can usually pay-off the police since most of them also adhere to the LAW OF SELF.

EFFECT #2 CRIME:

Yeah, yeah, I know there's always been crime in this country. Particularly in the last , oh , 20 years or so. But hey, didn't you hear how PJ responded to the problem of crime and violence during his last ("LIVE and DIRECT") diplomatic mission to Toronto?: " ...crime is rising everywhere...just look at the Columbine killings?"

Sure, I'll buy that! I know its sort of like using the Jim Jones massacre to explain the War in Serbia but it made everyone around here feel so much more GLOBAL about our acute crime problem which now features an average of 3 killings per day. I can almost hear the sufferers now on a street corner somewhere in downtown Kingston: "Yeah man...mi know dem go in ‘an chop up yuh brother an' sister an' rape off yuh modda and shot har ten times...but dem deh tings a gwan in Denver too yuh know bredrin?!"

The effects of crime can be seen everywhere of course. Besides the immediate effects (ie: dead people turning up in your back yard, gunshot/stab wounds, life-savings missing, etc, etc) the most obvious effect is the paranoia which breeds distrust and aggressiveness between strangers. Everywhere you go in Kingston you get the distinct feeling that you are living in a violent , nasty, dangerous place: grills on everything; truckloads of soldiers armed to the teeth speeding down Hope Road; armed guards standing by the McDonald's pick-up window at Liguanea; the sound of gun salutes at dancehall sessions; youths pulling knives on each other at Sovereign Plaza on a busy Saturday; Brinks security men walking across a parking lot and scanning everyone at chest level with big silver pump-action shotguns.

Man, I've really gotta get me one of those things. But don't tell anyone- I don't trust any of these goddamned crazy people ‘round here!

EFFECT # 3 THE SERVICE INDUSTRY:

Ever since an empty glass COKE bottle has become worth more than the Jamaican dollar, people in the service industry , particularly those who make minimum wage (roughly three and half bottles an hour), have become a little bit inefficient. With few exceptions (ie: tourist resorts), service in Jamaica has come to mean standing in a line until you develop algae.

Banks , naturally, are the worst offenders for this sort of thing, particularly if you need foreign exchange which is the equivalent of asking for Internet access at UWI: available , but rarely and even then-extremely slow in the coming. Similarly , if you happen to lose your ATM card in Jamaica, you'll have to wait weeks to get a new one, and only after writing personal letter to the bank manager(unless of course, you've got "connections").Only then will you be able to access your account without having to join the non-ATM line which typically includes a couple of dusty human skeletons and a guy selling peanuts.

Three to four hours later you leave the line with your weekly earnings and go to the plaza to buy a shirt with it. The first thing you will notice is that salespeople in Kingston come in two forms:

A) the badgering borderline beggar.

B)"I-don't-give-two-F*%*-if-you-don't-buy-anything-I-don't-own-the-place-anyway" salesman/woman.

The first type is usually found selling their wares on the street or in places like downtown Kingston. These people have perfected the art of "BEG-SELLING". A BEG-SELLER will normally approach you with some worthless trinket or inferior product like "FRESHIE-GEAR'S VERSION OF TOMMY HILFIGER" underwear. Some of them carry around cardboard boxes filled with lollipops, chewing gum and boxes of frozen juice. But most of them are annoying as hell and do things like give shit to your children without your approval and then look at you with their hand open. I fucking hate that!

I mean, I understand that people have to do what they can to survive in this hostile place , but not when that includes trying to rip-off MY broke ass! Frankly , I couldn't care less if you live in a zinc-roof shack and your mother's a crackhead and you need to sell those lollipops to buy a skirt kit for your Lexus...I've got problems of my own nigga, go harass someone else.

I can't be bothered talking about the TYPE B salespeople except to say that they would better serve society as fertilizer.

EFFECT #4 COPS WHO DRINK ON DUTY :

Don't believe me? Then you need to visit somewhere like UWI'S student union on a Saturday night. In there, you'll find a few students playing dominoes or pool, a TV and every now and again, a couple of cops standing around with glasses of white rum. You see, since the average Kingston cop makes just four and a half Coke bottles an hour so they tend to drink a lot and get kinda crazy in the process.

Can you imagine being in a bar and turning around and seeing one of these deranged bastards standing beside you?! I mean, I know everyone hates cops already, but can you imagine how much worse it would be if you ran into a cop who was not only an asshole, but drunk as well?! Pretty damn disturbing isn't it? You'd want to turn around and leave wouldn't you? But then, it might look suspicious if you walked into a bar, looked at the drunk cops, and then immediately walked out, right?

Right. So, then you go in and order a drink so they don't follow you outside and ask you why you were staring at them. As you go up to the bar, one of them eases up next to you and says: "Whappeen bredrin? Listen, mi' waan buy a next Whites but mi' need fowty dollar..yuh can lend mi?"

How's that for a nice warm-up exercise before the inevitable, collective nervous-breakdown of what's left of Jamaica's social order? Wheee!!! Total anarchy! I can't wait! I wonder if that bitch Barbara Walters needs a foreign correspondent?!? I bet she could get me a green card and a visa to Miami if I supply her with enough uncut video-footage from the inside!

I can just see it now: " LIVE FROM KINGSTON: 24-HOUR GHETTO WAR-FOOTAGE!!!" It would be twice as funny as the Jerry Springer Show, 100% more violent and with a better host: ME!

I'd be the new KING OF PRIMETIME! I'd buy a new Mercedes E-class, some flashy jewellery, Cuban cigars ,high powered firearms, a bunch of shoes and maybe even a new dress for Nicole Haughton (Miss Jamaica) to replace that shabby blue shower-curtain she wore to the Miss Universe pageant. Anyone know if Barbara Walters has an E-Mail address?

EFFECT #5 THE SUICIDE THING:

"Dear TWILA-MAE...I just cannot go on living knowing that we will no longer be able to afford driving the BMW that we won from COURT'S BIMMERMANIA exactly one year ago. I built my life around that car. For once, I didn't have to walk street and catch bus to go nowhere. But now, we can't afford insurance, tires, or the gas which all came free for a year. We can't even sell the thing because nobody wants a BMW with the words'"PROGRAMME FI' KILL' airbrushed on the hood. You will find me by the mango tree. I'm sorry, Love TREVOR."

Yes, indeed, suicide is on the increase as well. This one's pretty easy to explain. Look at it this way: suppose YOU were the one of those people who was injured in that gas explosion in Half-Way-Tree in 1997; or got run over by a taxi or shot by a drunk cop; and you get gangrene while waiting for a doctor at the hospital.

Then, because you have gangrene, they chop off your leg but you don't have insurance. So now you make your living hopping around on one leg at Matilda's corner cleaning people's windshields?!

Yeah, that's right, you'd kill yourself faster than you can say : "Life sucks!"

Anyway , I hate to end on such a sour note, but try to look on the bright side: Jamaica is still ..umm....its...ummm...sunny.

 

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