Monday, July 13, 2009

Reservedly happy

TONY REBEL... 'What a nice place to live - sweet Jamdown!'

JEAN LOWRIE-CHIN | Jamaica Observer | Monday, July 13, 2009

"I just came back from Afghanistan," the building contractor said, "and I am convinced that Jamaicans don't know the meaning of the word 'suffer'." Just so we didn't get too carried away, he added, "Mark you, I think I did well there because after 14 years in the construction business in Jamaica, you know how to deal with the 'baddest don'."

The contractor proceeded to describe the dry, dusty, scrubby landscape of Afghanistan, the stifling heat, the IEDs (improvised explosive devices) lurking at every step. The more I listened to him, the more I remembered the desolate pictures from my young relative, a soldier in Baghdad five years ago, and the more I appreciated Tony Rebel's song: "What a nice place to live/Sweet Jamdown/The only problem is/Money nah run. Help me big up Jamaica/the land of wood and water/the system may no proper/But we love the vibes, the food and the culture/Woi, can't you see/The beauty of this country/Me never know a serious thing/Until me reach a foreign."

These thoughts came to me as I read a report on Jamaica's rating as the third happiest country in the world. Happy, of course - I remember those joyous summers when my sister and I "spent time" with Grandma who had no electricity and few of those conveniences that we now regard as necessities. Claude McKay's Flame-Heart captures the beauty of Jamaican country life: "I have embalmed the days,/Even the sacred moments when we played,/All innocent of passion, uncorrupt,/At noon and evening in the flame-heart's shade./We were so happy, happy, I remember,/Beneath the poinsettia's red in warm December."

"Happy" had a far less complex definition then than it has today, now that our taste has been honed by Hollywood and corrupted by cable. "I looked in my grandchildren's cupboard and it was just a mountain of untouched toys," said a friend of mine. "I convinced them to donate them to charity. When their closets were cleared and tidy, the children looked so relieved."

In the Facebook responses to Nationwide's request for reactions to the rating, we saw comments ranging from, "I guess the old saying really is true: 'Ignorance is bliss'." to "It's long time we telling them... Jamaica No Problem, Mon, we too blessed to be stressed."

There were some humorous ones: "Out of how many countries, three?" and "Truth is I would not want to live anywhere else. To think Jamaica is the third happiest place on earth, more of us need to smoke weed, then we will all be so happy at Number 1!!!!"

Jamaicans know how to have fun. When Blakka had his last comedy show at Backyaad a few months ago, we had to park a good distance away, so large was the attendance. In any given week, there are plays, movies, shows and parties being advertised. (Then again, two leading DJs are alleged to have committed gun crimes and we cry shame on those politicians who have embedded the gun culture in our poor communities, now being manifested in so many tragic events.)

We worried for the Observer Food Awards in this recession, but at $8,000 a pop, the grounds at Devon House were overflowing. Reggae continues to be the beat of choice for upbeat movie soundtracks, on Travel and Food TV, Jamaican cuisine is often featured and of course, we are "lightning" on the track.

According to the new "Happy Planet" report from British non-profit group New Economics Foundation, "Jamaica's appearance in the top three of the Happy Planet Index (HPI) table comes somewhat as a surprise. It is fair to say that the country has been in some economic trouble for over 30 years, resulting in high levels of inequality and unemployment, and some of the highest homicide rates in the world. Moderate levels of life satisfaction perhaps reflect this reality."

(click on title for full column)