Saturday, October 4, 2008

When I was a little girl

Things seemed to change pretty quickly. I had my first "in my day moment" much earlier than I thought I would. I remember the day and the incident very well, even though there have been many since then. I was fresh out of college and four years out of high school. I had gotten on an almost empty bus on my way home from work, when I noticed two teenage girls in the uniform of my alma mater (Age quod agis). They were eating out of boxes on the backseat, shouting out the window to someone on the sidewalk and romping with the bus conducter. Completely unladylike behaviours. I was horrified. For days after that I talked about how differently we behaved when I was in high school. Since then, the lines to the stories I will tell my sons of my early years have been lengthening.

We expect change; some are good and some are expected. I remember when Kisko was 25 cents and King Kong was 50 cents. Now, I don't even think you can find a King Kong, and kids call Kisko ice pop. I remember J.O.S. buses and bus fare being 10 cents. I remember when Road Runner hamburgers were the best meal in town. I remember when Odeon was open, though I never went there. I remember going to Harborview Drive-in and listening to the ocean hit the harbor wall. I remember when Portmore communities like Edgewater, Bridgeport and Braeton were nice places to live and raise children. I remember the T-Junction, before there was Portmore Mall. I remember driving to Mandeville on Friday nights before there was the highway. Those memories make me smile. Others give me great consternation for the state of my country.

When I was a little girl, I was guaranteed a quality education, and there was honor attached to being bright. Last Monday, my local public radio station hosted a call-in discussion about the quality of education in the United States, particularly as it compared to other countries. As soon as I heard the topic I was sure a Jamaican would call in to talk about the quality of the island's British-system education. I was not to be disappointed. The woman who called in sounded (by her voice and story) to be in her 40s and I instantly knew that much has changed since the days she was talking about. I think she would be as heartbroken as I am to learn how much education has changed back home. Due to the increasing cost of textbooks ($15,000 is the cost of one student's book list I heard of just today), many students are ill equipped in the classroom. Due to a lack of incentives and proper wages, there is a chronic shortage of qualified and dedicated teachers. In my opinion, the thing that affects education most in Jamaica is the decreasing disrespect for its value. During my short stint teaching high school (Fortis), I came to realize that many children are attending school without the conviction that their time is not being wasted. There are little social incentives to being smart, and they are hard pressed to see the economic ones either.

When I was a little girl, I could sit on my verandah at night and sleep with my windows open. When I was in college, I walked along an unlit street to get home from campus. My greatest fear were cows that might be grazing along the side. My backdoor was always open because I had no key. It never occured to me to be scared. Today, murder seems to be the national sport. I have stopped tracking the number of people killed since the beginning of the year, but at last check it stood at an average of four people per day. When that number grew to include one of my oldest and dearest friends, I mourned almost as much for the devastation of my country as I did for the loss of my friend.

When I was a little girl, children were exempt from the worst of our society. They were cared for and protected by the whole village. Nowadays the stories of killings that include children and women are so frequent as to no longer raise eyebrows. This week the Jamaica Observer reported the gruesome story of a 9-month-old girl who died after being sodomized by a male relative. The article noted the increasing frequency with which children are being brutalized, abused and killed across the island.

I acknowledge that there have been improvements in technology and infrastructure, but my country seems to have lost its heart. When I was a little girl I couldn't wait to get big. Now, I long for the good old days.

No comments:

Post a Comment