I’m scared. As 2009 spirals to a close, the approach of the New Year causes me great trepidation. Last week’s announcement of further taxes, which will become effective January 1st is not sitting well with many Jamaicans, and there are street protests in the works.
Now that concerns me. As a church musician who plays midnight services and has to travel on the road in the wee hours of the morning, this is not a good thing. Sure, they say the protests will be peaceful, and Jamaican law prohibits any kind of march or protests during the night. There is no stopping the criminal element from galvanizing their energy to terrorize us. I fear for my life.
How are the police going to protect us? They can barely fight the crime here, though they are making a gallant effort. They have been out virtually everday on the highways causing terrific traffic jams all in the name of searching for criminals. No one can comment on their success. Still, I’m glad to see them there.
Protests with the possibility of violence aside, I fear what the New Year will bring. Sunday’s Gleaner brought back memories of my childhood during the 70s. Food and basic goods, like toilet paper and bath soap were rationed, and I remember standing in line with my father for a bar of soap that was to bathe an entire family of four (and we had to use it to wash our hands, too).
Mass-migration took place at that time, too, but we were blessed to have the illiterate and boorish remain among us to carry on. Sunday’s paper announced that the country’s nurses, which have gotten a truly rotten deal, are threatening to migrate. Who else will migrate? If this trend continues, we will only sink deeper into ineptitude, mediocrity, and incompetence. But hold on one damn minute: can we sink any lower?
Everything will be taxed next year: general consumption tax will increase to 17%; basic foods that the poor eat will be subject to that tax. Gas tax will be increased a further 15%. They will tax us for being women: sanitary pads and tampons will be subject to tax, too.
But the thing that really gets me, as an educator, is the tax on books and school supplies, like writing paper. It’s bad enough that we live in a culture where ignorance seems to be highly prized. The government gripes and complains about the quality of education, and are so quick to point fingers at teachers. Now, instead of helping teachers succeed in the classroom, they are making their jobs virtually impossible by imposing these taxes. How many children will afford basic supplies for school? More to the point, How many children will be sent on the street begging when they should be in school?
As we’re on the subject of supplies, I lecture in a government-run college for the performing arts. There are not enough classrooms to hold classes, not enough practice facilities for the music students to practice their art. I teach music history classes and have been griping since 2005 about the inconsistent availability of a CD player for my classes. January of this year I purchased a CD player of my own for my classes. It stopped playing in November. I am not in a position to replace it, so I don’t know what the school will do. Of course I’ve reported it to the administration, but I do not believe I will have a player for next semester, and the class is an listening-intensive one.
Now for the matter of books. Most educators, and well-educated parents, know that the educational net is a wide one; that is, education takes place outside the walls of a classroom, and books are the ticket to a whole new world. Books entertain us, inform us, teach us new skills, and make us think. They make us question who we are and where we are headed as a species. Most Jamaicans do not read, however. Some never appreciated the beauty of a book; others are simply too busy scraping up enough money to live to bother with empty luxuries such as reading. It’s a vicious circle that won’t break anytime soon. Now we have a great excuse for not reading: the books, if they are available in the new year, will be just too expensive.
I have painted a grim picture, I know, but that’s the reality of living in Jamaica. This doesn’t stop me from enjoying my Christmas for now. God only knows how grateful I am to be on leave. I am exhausted and stressed. I am happy to spend time with my family, two-footed and four-footed, but I, like other Jamaicans, will have to find ways to survive the new year. I have already given much thought to that. It’s hard to plan, however, when we really don’t know the true extent of economy come January 1st when we will then come under the IMF rule.