Riverton city

Diary, Thursday 31st July, 1997: With Father Mac in Riverton city. On our way to the dump we past a series of little patched hovells, some of them brightly coloured and allways puzzled together, museum pieces of bricolage consumerism. Th3e dwellers were dirty and friendly. Not suspicious, hungry. Hildren of Sysiphus. These people sorted the waste of the city and retrieved what could be consumed again. This they sorted according to type. Piles of vbottles made up the front gardens of the little hovels. Many of the with crosses painted roughly over the doors. Social religion, Father Mac calls it. The dump itself, an enormous desert, is covered in a permanent cloud of thick brown dust. We stopped. Large machines were processing the field. The dump had recently been modernised. There were far fewer garbage gatherers than before the modernisation. The ones that were left had made themselves little huts on four columns built of rubber tires and covered with anything they could find. The eternal rehearsal of the beginnings of architecture. There they rested amidst the colourful and pointillist pattern of brightly coloured waste. In the distance, within the mist of dust stood stately Indian cattlewith their imposing shoulder humpts and long elegant horns, quietly staring at nothing in particular and always accompanied by flocks of egrets.

Riverton city: making do, making the best of nothing, but it would seem that it is not poverty which lies at the foundation of their craving, they crave dignity as well as means: respect. Poverty and the need for respect live in tension with each other, they are not subject to an either/or approach they are both foundational to an existence as opposed to a subsistence. I do not want to romanticise poverty. And I hate every form of sentimentality. But to ignore the beauty in a place like this is to dissmiss their effort and slander their ambitions. There is something sublime about Riverton city. These huts bvrightened with colours, painted with paints taken from the nearby Berger Paint factory. Colours of manifest belief: Huts in the colours of Jamaica, huts in the colours of ethiopian and rastafarianism, bright colours of celebration in the lord.


A lady ran a hardressing shop, listing her considerable skills in a catalogue of occasionally frighteing options. Poverty and a craving for dignity as the combined force of a rich culture. Here wealth is not measure in money but in the lack of it. As we went through the city I wished ferevently I could take more photographs and yet I did not want to take photographs of people in their misery. I asked Father Mac what he thought. He refused to make a judgement. Poverty is a part of our being here. It has become a taboo subject within the hegemony of an economic paradigm where material wealth dominates the weltanshauung of all the wellmeaning. Poverty has been decreed wrong. Poor people are poor, poverty is a disease. And yet there is wealth here. An extraordinary wealth. Culture.


Riverton City in Kingston is virtually built on the city dump. For the people living there the dump is the last economic bulwark against the abyss. At the same time it is a cynical museum of civilisation. It is the keeper of the containers of everything that Jamaican Society holds dear: The benefits of consumerism.


But the museum is fighting a continuous battle against forgetfullness. The exhibits are being consumed again before they disintegrate.


Friday 21st November 1997



There has been a newspaper article published in the Gleaner which says that cycling makes you impotent. our weight on the saddle eventually pinches the main artery supplying blood to your penis and eventually the artery collapses. I was worried, but this worry proved to be over-sensitive. However, Jolene, one of my fourth year students who has a tendency to worry abot other people took things into her own hands. She is a huge, and jolly girl. She just married in New York, a wedding which, judging from the wedding pictures which were thrust into my hands was a tinsel dream. She is a serious Seventh Day Adventist, with a Catholic approach t life. She takes the Sappath very seriously and will sit staring ahead of her and with regard to converation will, indulge in nothing more than the most brief avoiding tactics. I experienced this during our trip to Surinam. There she had been the first to worry about the idea of not flushing one’s toilet paper down the loo, but having to pt it into a bucket. Even so he is spoilt and an unbearable hypochondriac, she is also jolly when things are equal. But she is also a natural mother. The other day she told me that cycling makes people impotent. “Yes,” I said, “I know, but that does not present a real problem, I have four children already.” That was tongue in cheek. “Oh she said but that is not what this is about.” and in all seriousness she leant over and confided that impoetence meant that you cannot get it up. This was in class and I did not want to get too embroiled in details, so I said, flippantly, “Oh but sex is something of an inconvenience anyway” and turned to begin the class. At this she looked truly concerned and heaved her considerable bosom further over the table and asked “But what about your duty to your wife?” The great mix of strangeness.



In Riverton we looked at the little houses built under the auspices of Operation pride, humble, but not unpleasant little houses. What is interesting is that the standard finish of the ceiling is a thick coating of what the builders call “Propcorn” which is a bubbly polystyrene with golden glitter worked into it.


Later we walked through the other part of Riverton, the Shanty town of zinc, garbage and putrid water. Some of the buildings i photographed after very kindly asking permission which was easily granted by three old men who had found the shade for the rest of their lives. Walking back a Rastaman came up to me and complained that the people of Riverton weren’t going get the new houses and that they were not for “the poor” He asked me i I ever spoke to the Prime-minister and if I culd talk with him. I replied that I did not. On that note he sitched to goats of and of his plan to raise goats so that he would be able to make money to buy one of the huses. We had a lovely talk and I left, walked up when a gorrilla of a man pushing a pushcart came by and stated shouting at “Vinny” a man who had attached himself to us. It transpired that he was not enamoured of my walking there with a camera and that if I came anywhere his house I wuld get “gunshot”. Vinny, a cool man with gold tooth, gold rings, necklace a white shirt and hat and narrow oval sunglasses, listened to the gorilla impassively walked on and on my questioning and apologetic gaze murmured: “don fret”.