Friday, May 09, 2014

A cyclist's perspective of Jamaica

ONE of the things I have learned from my teachers is that before you attempt to write (or say) something, in other words pass judgment, it is very important to observe and think about what you will say.

This not only requires that you carefully observe but that you be slow in giving an opinion, and even more careful when you say or write something, which in many respects means that you understand two very important subjects -- mathematics (which teaches one to be logical) and English (which teaches one to relate accurately and understand). The problem with much of what we hear and say today of course betrays our understanding of both, and many times leads to national and personal challenges that could have been avoided if we had a proper understanding of these subjects.

It is therefore no surprise that many of us who see the importance of this understanding can point to teachers who have influenced us in many positive ways. At this point I would like to wish all my past teachers happy belated Teachers' Day. I can clearly remember those teachers who influenced the way I think and my preoccupation with the advancement of Jamaica, starting from high school and cemented at university by lecturers such as Trevor Munroe. Michael Witter, and Don Robotham, who, although they never taught the core subjects of my degree (accounting), very importantly influenced my thought process with their provocative look at the subjects of politics, economics, and sociology.

While returning home from my usual Sunday morning bicycle ride last week, it occurred to me that one of the challenges many of us face is one of perspective. In other words, many times we are moving too fast to really observe, understand, and appreciate what is happening in life around us. This, I think, is one of the challenges we face at a national and personal level, in many instances. That is, we many times don't appreciate what is happening around us because we are moving so fast and this results in us not being able to fully understand and comment appropriately. On a personal level what this many times results in is us coming to the end of our lives and then discovering that we really never focused on the things that really matter.

This is similar to my own perspective when driving as opposed to riding. When driving you are moving at around 30 mph and when cycling from the ride I am moving at around 10 mph. I therefore usually notice a lot more about the environment when riding home, which I don't notice when driving at a faster speed and sitting behind four doors with the windows up and radio on.

So while riding back home there are a few things you notice that would not normally be seen while driving. First thing you notice is that the roads are not in the most desirable state, but you do notice that some work is being done to address some of the road infrastructure issues. Related to this, however, is that our roads need directional signs in order to control the driving, especially for the buses and taximen who are the worst offenders. You also notice that the general infrastructure (sidewalks, drainage, and even some of the buildings) need some work to be done. If we are going to move forward as a society, and move towards vision 2030, then infrastructure development and some systems to guide use of the roads are essential.

One of the challenges we face is lack of fiscal space to do so, but it is also important to understand that future fiscal revenues also depend on a proper infrastructure being in place for investments, and for living generally.

What you also notice is that there are many young men on the road, obviously needing something to occupy their time. It is easy to identify those persons who are busy making their way to some employment, but you can also clearly identify those persons who are just hanging out on the corner, of which most are young men who should be employed in some productive activity instead of just sitting on a wall. If as a country we do not address this problem, then the future will have challenges.

You also notice (and this is normally when going to the ride) that we have no respect for the noise abatement act, as up until 5:30am you can hear the music all over.

Another thing that jumps out at you is that the gullies and sidewalks are dirty. People obviously dispose of their waste anywhere they feel like. This is a health and environmental hazard, which does not make the headlines but is a very serious problem. This may be because we have gotten used to this situation, and I notice that one way of certainly being able to identify when you are getting into Kingston is when you start to feel the quality of the air changing for the worse, indisciplined driving, and the garbage on the roads.

These challenges in our environment are problems for how we socialise our children, and you can see the various stages of development as you ride past the children. The very young you see with their mothers mostly (very rarely do you see a young child with a father) has the face of innocence and curiosity, and then the older ones (between maybe six and 10 years) you see without any adults riding or just starting the practice of hanging out on the corner like the older ones. And then there are the teenagers who are obviously making the transition to the practice of the young men mentioned before.

What is clear is that our society needs to be properly organised and that there must be a deliberate effort to do so. Cycling at 10 mph brings home a reality of what our society and infrastructure is like, which you don't see driving at 30 mph. It means to me, also, that much of what we talk about daily is really not addressing the heart of the problem, as even while we discuss many of the other pressing issues at a high level there are some critical on-the-ground things that need to be addressed.

If we do not address these issues, then we could end up with a society that is disconnected regardless of any macroeconomic progress we make.