Feature image source: flickr
I spent a year of my childhood in Green Island, a coastal town in Western Jamaica. Like their fathers, my cousins who lived there were fishermen and artisans who built boats from scratch. Some mornings, before the sun rose above the bay, before my cousins awoke, I walked the 25–metres distance to the shoreline and searched the sand for Jujube plums. I stared for hours at the sea, stared into its limitlessness. It was a faithful distraction from the hardships. In the immediate years after I left Green Island, I visited when I could. Nothing had changed, save for the growing piles of JB Rum bottles on the shoreline.
I left the countryside for university in Kingston. After completing my degree, I moved to the Eastern Caribbean and later, Japan. A year ago, before I went to graduate school in Bradford, UK—after eight years away—I went to Green Island to see family and eat Jujube. To my surprise, the sea had ‘travelled’ more than 20 metres up the beach and was now a few steps away from my cousins’ houses. I could see watermarks on the concrete columns that raised the houses above the sand. The sea that fed my cousins for generations was now, ironically, not only a threat to their livelihood but also to their lives. They told me they are hoping to move, but this means buying land, and in some cases, rebuilding from scratch. Most of them have spent all their earnings on their houses, boats, fish shops. It’s all they have, all they know.
They don’t know much about climate change, or the global effort to curb CO2 emissions, or the Paris Agreement, or Rio, Kyoto, Copenhagen. What they know is that cousin Rocky—who taught me to swim—drowned when his fishing boat capsized a few years ago. What they know is that the sea is out to get them too. The sea, once a friend, is now an enemy.
For the typical Jamaican politician, the only thing that the poor own that is of any real value is their vote—not their property, not their lives. And what is climate change compared to rampant crime, compared to IMF stipulations, compared to underpaid civil servants, compared to nebulous national goals such as the need to restore the nation’s soul?
My cousins do not expect the government to help. Poorly financed NGOs like Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) seldom venture to villages like Green Island. I told them that in addition to being fishermen, they must become advocates. Among Jamaica’s poor, like the poor in other dystopias, only the very violent or the very brave thrive. I urged my cousins to be brave.