Saturday, May 30, 2009

Jamaica revisted

In spare moments recently I've continued the task of reviewing photographs taken in my travels over the years. Syria, Jerusalem, Bosnia, Mongolia, by digitising photographic slides and I've now re-visited Jamaica. In 1982, I spent six weeks travelling around the island enquiring into schooling practices and attitudes with a travel scholarship from the Commission for Racial Equality. At that time I was governor of several multi-racial schools, sharing the concerns of teachers about the challenge to engage with black students. Their parents had high expectations, they didn't understand why their kids didn't get on well in school. There were cross cultural communication problems in all directions - children, teachers, parents, management, politicians, the public. As an inner city parish priest, I was well placed to do some investigation, with parishioners who could give me family contacts to visit in both urban and rural areas of the island.

My slides were much used in talks I gave when I returned, so many are scratched. New digital scanning tools fortunately make repair and renovation possible, though it's hard to get the pictures to look as pristine as they did when first used. Jamaica was beset with economic and political crisis when I was there. It was before it became a U.S. cyber sweatshop for the outsourcing of administration. There was plenty of poverty, but my photographs reveal more my nervousness about taking pictures conveying the horror of that - but then I wasn't a professional photo journalist, only a travelling parson - trying to tell a broader story about life in cultured hard working communities in a third world country. Memory can still supply most of the story sub-titles. Travel notes and letters fill in the detail. One of these days I will transcribe all that I wrote. Then maybe I'll save up and see if I can repeat my trip, revisit the places and see what kind of economic and social development has happened in the meanwhile.

It's already 28 years since I was there. How long before I return I wonder? When I do, will the situation there mirror that among afro-caribbean Brits today - some remarkably successful and far too many still losing out, not fulfilling their great potential? I see far too much evidence that despite efforts to counter racism, and superficially liberal attitudes, not enough has changed in Britain or the wider world, not enough lessons learned from the sufferings of the past.

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