The Essence of Talawah
Posted August 28, 2008on:
The Essence of Talawah
Why Nation Building is dead.
– Yorkali Walters
In 9.69 seconds Usain Bolt transformed a nation. We watched with baited breath as the black, green and golden streak laid low the world’s best, thumping his chest into Olympic history. What moved me most though was not just Usain’s scintillating performance but the tsunami of change that would cover our island.
I have repeatedly said to my American friends, often with moist eyes that my little island home needed this badly. The crime riddled nation has not been the same since an unfortunate election over 28 years ago. In 1980 Jamaica experienced a tipping point in it’s history. That touchstone released decades long of repressed animosity, anxiety and fear. Feelings that extend all the way back to our past as a nation of slaves. These violent symptoms we have not yet been able to live down as country. Acclaimed professor Dr. Cornel West in a recent CNN program on the Black Experience in America claimed, (look this up!) “One of the greatest problems we face today in our society is the pursuit of pleasure, power and property.”
The pursuit of these three, when unleashed on relatively small societies, can have devastating effects. Jamaica has suffered long for this.
Rampant violence, domestic upheaval and urban terrorism has been the result.
I do not use the phrase urban terrorism lightly. Ask the 12 year old student in Denham Town, or Rema that cannot go to school because bullets fly like mosquitoes across his street. Or the mother that suffers through round after round of beatings because she wants a better life for her children. These are not easy situations or choices. These are situations that cloud the collective consciousness of 2.8 million plus people.
Then a bolt from the blue.
For 9.69 seconds we held our breath. For 100 metres reality was suspended. At the end of the race on that Saturday night in Beijing visions of an alternate future flashed before our eyes and we truly realized the true meaning of the phrase “likkle but we talawah” Usain’s achievement is THE essence of talawah (pride/achievement) and this I believe will be more than increasing the profit margin of Puma, Digicel or any other corporate giant that endorses the Bolt. This is, as a popular US politician likes to term it, is a defining moment in our nation’s history. We now have the choice to attach OUR definition to this moment. Not necessarily marketing or merely as we like to term it, “nation building”.
We should define this as the beginning of “a nation becoming“. For this author nation building entails getting all the pieces in place, setting the foundation. Getting the education system right, reducing crime, fixing our roads, etc, etc, and the list goes on from Morant Bay to Negril Point. We have been nation building since 1962. And we are still marking time with no real progress. We talk endlessly on radio talk shows, complain our hearts out, Mutty and the rest I am sure are tired sometimes to sit behind the mike. While this happens, our youngest amongst us either languish in poverty, fear and hopelessness or we ship out to farrin’ and the brain drain rapes us of our best minds. But now is the moment to shift from nation building to a nation becoming.
Mind you, our new highways are way overdue along with all that any decent government is SUPPPOSED to do. The error of our ways is waiting for everything to be just right so we can say, Yup, here we are, we have finally “built” a world-class, “first-world”, country finally ready to be taken seriously.
Nation building is dead.
Let us BECOME the best of what we always were before the crime, before the nightmare of 1980, before our future became divided by garrisons and class. Our situation has deteriorated to the point where our only direction is up. When things are this bad. The element of risk is not as big an issue. We can afford to be truely innovative in any field we chose. Radical changes in strategy are much easier when you do not have much to lose.
The physics of sprinting has long said that long-legged men are not cut out for short distances. Usain has put that theory to rest. Now, let us look at ourselves differently . How can we auger the resource of our Jamaicans abroad beyond just sending remittances, to how their various locations across the globe can help to build up our national brand in new ways. May the political will align itself behind the best ideas that our colleges and universities produce and not let partisan politics kill the innovation that we so desperately need. May we think different about our future as we move from a nation that builds, to a nation that becomes…the best of what it always was. Likkle but Talawah!
Yorkali, a designer, writes from State College, Pennsylvania.